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Are Massage Guns worth a Shot?

What works and what doesn’t. Which tools, diets and training methods are worth giving a try for athletes from combat sports (MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing, BJJ, …) and which aren’t? That’s basically what we write about on our website.

So how do we choose what we will be reviewing? Answer: Social Media. When scrolling Social Media, you notice right away what’s hot in your field of interest (=your feed). Well, our field of interest is combat sports.

That’s how we came about our newest topic: Massage Guns. It seems like the majority of combat athletes are using a Massage Gun to recover from workouts and competition. However, most of those posts on Social Media refer to specific brands of Massage Guns(e.g.picture left). The likelihood that sponsorship was the reason behind most of these posts, is high. So, let’s have a deeper and more scientific look at these Massage Guns. Are they useful and worth their money?

Massage Guns

As you can see in the picture, a Massage Gun looks like normal a handgun. But, instead of shooting a bullet, it has a vibrating ball on it. When using the gun, you place the ball on the targeted muscles and have it punch you repeatedly. The correct name for this recovery technique is “Percussive Therapy” or “Vibration Therapy”. Vibration Therapy is said to have a number of benefits for athletes. Here I’ll review the ones that are mentioned the most frequent:

  • Muscle Soreness & Muscle Pain

Combat sports are very taxing on the body. Muscles are used to failure, multiple times a day. This causes the muscles to be sore and painful, which puts a strain on future training and competition.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is the pain that is experienced 24 to 72 hours post-exercise. A study conducted in 2014 compared the effectiveness of standard massages, conducted by a masseuse, with vibration therapy. Both the massages and Vibration Therapy proved to be helpful in significantly reducing DOMS

  • Release lactic acid

The body uses oxygen to break down glucose for energy. However, due to the extreme energy demands during intense training, it’s possible that there is not enough oxygen to produce energy from the available glucose. In this case, the body makes lactic acid. Lactic acid can be converted to energy without using oxygen. The problem starts when lactic acid builds up faster than it can be converted. In this case, they say that the “lactate threshold” has been reached.

Too much buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream causes all kinds of problems, most prominent being: cramps, nausea and feeling exhausted. It’s your body begging you to stop what you are doing. 

Scientific studies have found Vibration therapy to be very effective (and superior to standard massages) in releasing lactic acid from the body.

  • Regaining full range of motion (ROM)

The range of motion is “the distance a joint can move and the direction in which it can move”. A great ROM is very beneficial for a fighter. The range determines e.g. how smoothly he can perform a high kick or how easily he can escape a submission attempt. Since DOMS is a big factor in reduced ROM, it comes as no surprise that it has been shown that vibration therapy increases range of motion in athletes.

  • Increase strength and improve mood through hormonal effects

In articles and social media posts, one of the benefits mentioned, is the hormonal effects. They state that vibration therapy increases testosterone, growth hormone and endorphins and decreases cortisol. This has indeed been confirmed in scientific studies. BUT all these studies have been done one WHOLE-body vibration therapy. When using a massage gun, you apply localized vibration therapy to a targeted area. Whole-body vibration requires a person to stand on a vibrating platform. We have not found any studies on the hormonal effects of localized vibration therapy. So, we conclude that this effect has no scientific backing.

Bottom line

For many top athletes, getting a massage after a hard training or competition is a given. They reduce muscle pain and soreness, release lactic acid and increase range of motion. What if you could get the same benefits without having to go to a professional masseuse and paying for the session. Well, apparently you can with the use of a Massage Gun. You can get these same effects by using a Massage gun on targeted muscles. In most cases the Massage Gun is even more effective than the massages. 

Such a device costs anywhere between 200 and 1500 dollars. This may seem quite expensive for recreational practitioners, but for professional fighters, a Massage Gun is more than worth its money.

(Links to Amazon are affiliate links)

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