How to Use a Massage Gun to Ease Lower Back Pain

Learn more about how massage guns can help relieve lower back pain and muscle soreness.

Published Date: Apr 1, 2024
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Whether you tweaked your back after sleeping in an awkward position or have been dealing with chronic low back pain for a long time, you’re probably after some much-needed relief from discomfort or stiffness. And while there are many ways to treat low back pain — most especially movement and exercise — massage guns are growing in popularity as one potential tool to have in your pain relief toolbox.   

“Massage guns can provide a different level of stimulation to muscles that you can’t get with foam rolling, stretching, or ice and heat,” says Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. This can be especially important if you find yourself limiting movement as a result of your back pain or muscle soreness. The on-the-spot relief that massage guns can provide can help you feel comfortable enough to exercise — and exercise is one of the best things you can do to treat low back pain long term. 

Read on to learn more about massage guns, their benefits, and how to use them to relieve muscle soreness in the low back, according to our Hinge Health physical therapists. 

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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 portable device that uses percussive therapy, which relies on repetitive pressure and vibrations to soothe achy muscles all over the body, including those in the back, legs, and neck. (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 boost circulation, stimulate muscles, relieve tension, and improve range of motion,” says Dr. Aeder. 

Massage guns can offer at-home relief similar to what you might expect during a traditional massage. But instead of having a massage therapist work out your muscle knots, you can adjust the pressure and speed of a massage gun to provide a similar experience. 

Massage guns often come with a range of different attachments, or heads, to help treat different sore spots. For instance, you may use a larger head on bigger low back muscles, but a smaller head may provide gentler pressure when you need it or help you really work a small, tight spot. 

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, which may improve performance,” says Dr. Aeder. “After exercise, a massage gun can help relieve muscle tension and boost circulation.” For those with chronic back pain, you may find that a massage gun comes in handy whenever your pain flares up, like after a particularly strenuous day.

Massage Gun Benefits for Lower Back Pain

Massage guns can provide a range of benefits to ease low back pain, including:

  • Reduced low back pain and muscle tension. Massage guns can ease muscle tension in the low back by gently working out kinks or tight spots in back muscles that may be contributing to tightness or pain. 

  • Better circulation. The pressure and vibrations of a massage gun can bring blood flow and healing nutrients to the low back. This boost in blood flow can help reduce swelling that may accompany your sore muscles. 

  • Reduced herniated disc or sciatica symptoms. If you have a herniated disc or low back pain that radiates down one or both of your legs (also known as sciatica), a massage gun may help with the pain, numbness, and tingling that many people experience. “Often, with sciatic-type pain, tight muscles in the low back and hip contribute to nerve irritation,” explains Dr. Aeder. “So using a massage gun can be helpful for relieving muscle tension and some of the pressure on the nerves.” 

  • More muscle stimulation. When you stimulate low back 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 back muscles can limit your range of motion. Massage guns can help relieve some of this tension so that your back muscles can move more easily through their full range of motion when bending and twisting. 

  • 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.

How to Use a Massage Gun for Lower Back Pain Relief

You can use a massage gun every day but 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 how long you use it. Dr. Aeder recommends using a massage gun for no more than 10 to 20 seconds in one specific area of your low back and up to about two minutes to work across your entire back. “You can move the massage gun around your back 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. 

Avoid bones. When working on your lower back, avoid rolling the massage gun over any bones, particularly your spine and hip bones. If you’re not sure what areas to target for your low back pain, 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.

Massage your hips and glutes, too. Weak glute and hip muscles can contribute to low back pain. “Even if the pain is in your lower back, you would still benefit from using a massage gun on your hips and glutes,” says Dr. Aeder. “Make sure you're addressing the full area, not just the area of pain.” You may also find it helpful to try different positions while using the massage gun, like sitting or lying on your side, to get the best angle.

Listen to your body. The level of pressure and the type of massage head 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 your back, 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 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 back pain. Staying active is one of the best things you can do to relieve back pain and limit soreness and stiffness. Massage guns are more of a feel-better remedy, not a get-better strategy. “A massage gun is great to use in addition to exercise and movement, but not in place of it,” says Dr. Aeder. “It can be a smart tool to use after activity to combat any sort of muscle soreness or tightness that you might be feeling.” In other words, any relief you feel after using a massage gun should be what motivates you to move more, not less.

When Not to Use a Massage Gun

If you have an acute back 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. “You don't want to use a massage gun on torn muscles, ligaments, or tendons, or on new injuries,” she adds. “And you want to make sure that any back injuries have healed before you add in any massage with a massage gun.”

PT Tip: Stretch While Using Your Massage Gun

You may find more relief for your lower back pain by stretching while using a massage gun. (Hinge Health members: You can try using a massage gun during your exercise therapy sessions.) “Adding a massage gun to a light stretch or a mobility exercise can be helpful and maximize the benefits,” says Dr. Aeder. “When you put your body in a position of stretch while using the massage gun, it can help improve mobility.” While some stretches may be harder to perform while also using a massage gun, a PT can recommend exercises that can be done safely without sacrificing form. 

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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References 

  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. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7675623/  

  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