How to Use a Massage Gun to Relieve Leg Pain

Learn how to use a massage gun on your legs and how it can provide relief from sore muscles, from your quads to your calves.

Published Date: Apr 1, 2024

How to Use a Massage Gun to Relieve Leg Pain

Learn how to use a massage gun on your legs and how it can provide relief from sore muscles, from your quads to your calves.

Published Date: Apr 1, 2024

How to Use a Massage Gun to Relieve Leg Pain

Learn how to use a massage gun on your legs and how it can provide relief from sore muscles, from your quads to your calves.

Published Date: Apr 1, 2024

How to Use a Massage Gun to Relieve Leg Pain

Learn how to use a massage gun on your legs and how it can provide relief from sore muscles, from your quads to your calves.

Published Date: Apr 1, 2024
Table of Contents

If you’ve ever had a cramp in your thigh or a sore calf muscle, you’ve probably tried to rub or knead the area with your hands for some fast-acting relief. But you can do better than that: A massage gun can help gently hammer away at sore muscles that are contributing to your leg pain, relaxing the muscles in the process. 

“Massage guns help stimulate muscles, improve circulation, relieve tension, and increase the range of motion of the affected muscle group," says Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. This can be especially beneficial if soreness is limiting how active you are. Because a massage gun can help calm crampy, tight muscles, the relief you experience can make it easier for you to return to exercise and all the activities you enjoy.   

Read on to learn more about massage guns, their benefits, and how to use them to relieve leg pain and cramps, according to Hinge Health physical therapists. 

Our Hinge Health Experts

Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Aeder is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified athletic trainer.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Massage Gun?

A massage gun is a handheld device that uses percussive therapy, which relies on repetitive pressure and vibrations to boost circulation, stimulate muscles, relieve tension, and improve range of motion. Massage guns can be used all over the body to target specific areas of muscle pain, including pain in the back, neck, and legs. (Note: You shouldn’t use a massage gun directly on the front or sides of the neck or over the bones of the cervical spine, but you can use it on supporting neck muscles, including the traps, rhomboids, and levator scapula, to help ease neck pain.)

Massage guns can offer on-the-spot relief similar to what you might expect during a regular massage, but the key difference is that a massage gun offers rapid, repeated pressure that a massage therapist usually can’t mimic. 

Massage guns often come with a range of different attachments, or heads, to help treat different parts of the body. For instance, you may use a larger head on the big muscles in your glutes, while something smaller or more angled may be better for the smaller muscles near your ankles

A massage gun can be used whenever you need relief, but people often use them before or after exercise. “Before a workout, stimulating a muscle with a massage gun can help activate your muscles and improve performance during exercise,” says Dr. Aeder. “After exercise, a massage gun can help relieve muscle tension and boost circulation.”

Massage Gun Benefits for Leg Pain

Massage guns can provide a range of benefits to ease muscle soreness and pain in your legs, including:

  • Reduced leg pain and muscle tension. Massage guns can ease muscle tension in the legs by gently working out kinks or tight spots that may be causing tightness, pain, or cramping. “Massage guns can help to relieve deep muscle contractions that cause cramping so you can calm the muscle down and feel better,” says Dr. Aeder

  • Better circulation. The pressure and vibrations of a massage gun can bring blood flow and healing nutrients to leg muscles. This boosts blood flow to the area, which can help reduce swelling that may accompany your sore leg muscles. 

  • More muscle stimulation. When you stimulate muscles before activity with a massage gun, you’re basically giving them a little warm-up. This brings more oxygen to the muscle groups you’re preparing to work, which allows them to contract and relax more easily. 

  • Increased range of motion. Stiff, tight muscles can limit your range of motion. Massage guns can help relieve some of this tension, which can help muscles move more easily through their full range of motion. Think about what happens when your calf muscles are tight, for instance. You may notice less flexibility in your lower legs as you sit, stand, or walk. A 2023 study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that when study subjects used a massage gun on their calves for five minutes they reported greater range of motion after. 

  • Stronger muscles. A report in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy that reviewed the results of 13 studies on massage guns found that using a massage gun can help improve muscle strength, including explosive muscle strength, which is needed when you increase speed rapidly, like when you sprint to catch a train or bus.

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How to Use a Massage Gun for Leg Pain Relief

From sore quads and glutes to crampy calves, massage guns can provide welcome relief for many types of leg pain. Before using a massage gun to manage your leg pain, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure you’re doing so safely, says Dr. Aeder. A few things to consider:

Limit each session. Dr. Aeder recommends using a massage gun for no more than 10 to 20 seconds in one specific area and up to two minutes or so to work across an entire muscle. “You can move the massage gun around a muscle until you hit all the spots, but I wouldn’t keep it in the exact same spot for more than 20 seconds,” says Dr. Aeder. “Total time will vary depending on the muscle’s size, so you may need to do it closer to two minutes on large muscle groups like those in the quads or hamstrings.”

Massage only on muscle. Avoid massaging over bone, like the areas around the hip bones, behind the knee, the kneecap itself, the shinbone (tibia), or any ankle bones. If you’re not sure what areas to target, work with a physical therapist to get guidance on using a massage gun properly. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Listen to your body. The level of pressure or setting you use can vary day to day, depending on how you feel. “With certain muscles that are larger, you may tolerate higher levels on the massage gun or a little more pressure,” points out Dr. Aeder. “But if, on another day, you’re experiencing more soreness in an area, you may not be able to tolerate as much pressure or you may need to use a lower setting. Adapt to what your body needs in the moment.” 

Try different massage gun heads. In order to figure out what feels best to you when using a massage gun, try out different attachments to see which ones provide you with the most comfortable relief. “For larger muscle groups, I would use a larger head, but for smaller muscle groups or more sensitive areas, I would use a smaller head,” advises Dr. Aeder. “If you're treating a more specific area, having more control with a smaller head can be helpful and also improve safety with its use.”

Keep moving. Movement is medicine for any type of musculoskeletal pain, and leg soreness is no exception. Staying active is one of the best things you can do to relieve leg pain and avoid more stiffness or tightness. If you find yourself limiting activity, a massage gun may provide in-the-moment relief you need to get moving again. “A massage gun is great to use in addition to exercise and movement, but it shouldn’t be used in place of exercise,” says Dr. Aeder. “It can help to simulate muscles and improve mobility so that you have better performance and less pain when you’re active.” 

Stretch while massaging. With certain leg stretches, like a calf stretch or quad stretch, you may find more relief by stretching while using the massage gun. “When you put your body in a position of stretch while using the massage gun, it can help improve mobility,” says Dr. Aeder. (Hinge Health members: You can try using a massage gun during your exercise therapy sessions.)

When Not to Use a Massage Gun

If you have an acute leg injury, like a sprain or strain, avoid using a massage gun on that area until it’s healed otherwise you may exacerbate the injury, cause more pain, and prolong recovery, says Dr. Aeder. “A massage gun is not a healing agent, it's an adjunct to therapy for pain relief, recovery, or muscle performance,” she adds. “You don't want to use a massage gun on torn muscles, ligaments, or tendons, or on new injuries. And you want to make sure that those injuries have healed before you add in any massage with a massage gun.”

PT Tip: Use a Massage Gun on Your Legs Before Exercise

“You can use a massage gun before exercise as a way to activate muscles in order to improve performance during activity,” says Dr. Aeder. If you’re specifically looking to strengthen your quads, for instance, you’d want to activate those muscles by using the massage gun before you begin your workout. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Sams, L., Langdown, B. L., Simons, J., & Vseteckova, J. (2023). The Effect Of Percussive Therapy On Musculoskeletal Performance And Experiences Of Pain: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 18(2). doi:10.26603/001c.73795

  2. Driller, M., & Leabeater, A. (2023). Fundamentals or Icing on Top of the Cake? A Narrative Review of Recovery Strategies and Devices for Athletes. Sports, 11(11), 213–213. doi:10.3390/sports11110213

  3. Konrad, A., Glashüttner, C., Reiner, M. M., Bernsteiner, D., & Tilp, M. (2020). The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 19(4), 690–694.  

  4. Ricardo Maia Ferreira, Silva, R., Vigário, P., Martins, P. N., Casanova, F., Fernandes, R. J., & Sampaio, A. (2023). The Effects of Massage Guns on Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 8(3), 138–138. doi:10.3390/jfmk8030138

  5. García-Sillero, M., Benítez-Porres, J., García-Romero, J., Bonilla, D. A., Petro, J. L., & Vargas-Molina, S. (2021). Comparison of Interventional Strategies to Improve Recovery after Eccentric Exercise-Induced Muscle Fatigue. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(2), 647. doi:10.3390/ijerph18020647

Table of Contents
What Is a Massage Gun?Massage Gun Benefits for Leg PainHow to Use a Massage Gun for Leg Pain ReliefWhen Not to Use a Massage GunPT Tip: Use a Massage Gun on Your Legs Before ExerciseHow Hinge Health Can Help YouReferences