Whether you are a professional athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply a regular gym-goer, at some point we have all experienced that persistent deep ache in our muscles after a strenuous workout.
In the health & fitness industry, this is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMs for short.
The good news is, you can now quickly relieve the pain associated with DOMs using a simple tool at home, which is the personal massage gun.
In order to appreciate fully how a massage gun can be a helpful tool, it is first necessary to understand a little more about Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
What is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?
Following a bout of unfamiliar or intense exercise, we are often left with a sensation of aching and stiffness lasting from hours to days, depending on a multitude of factors.
The symptoms of DOMS usually peak 24-72 hours following a strenuous or new exercise session, and dissipate entirely within 5-7 days.
Although the exact mechanism of DOMS is still poorly understood, we do know that it is more likely to be triggered by exercise involving eccentric muscle contractions.
An eccentric contraction occurs when a muscle lengthens whilst still resisting a movement, a common example of this would be the hamstrings decelerating the forwards momentum of the hip whilst walking or running.
I would rarely recommend a client in good health drop out this type of exercise just to avoid muscle soreness the next day. Eccentric exercises deliver powerful benefits in helping to build more power, stronger connective tissues, and greater flexibility.
In certain athletic groups such as footballers, they have even shown an ability to reduce risk of injury over the course of a season.
Therefore, it is more beneficial to know how to effectively deal with the muscle soreness that follows, rather than cut out certain types of exercise all together.
How can a massage gun help with DOMs?
To understand why a massage gun helps reduce the aches and pains associated with DOMs, it is first useful to understand what the device does.
A massage gun works by creating percussive vibrations, which when transferred to some myofascial tissues can help to stretch areas of localised tightness, increase blood flow and aid relaxation of tense muscles.
In turn, this helps with maintaining and restoring joint mobility and peak power output.
Another theorised way in which massage guns may help is by utilising something called the pain gate theory and pre-synaptic inhibition.
First theorised in 1965 by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall, the pain gate theory suggests that a graded mechanical input works by blocking small diameter nerve fibres, which carry noxious stimuli to the brain, whilst maintaining an open gateway for large diameter nerve fibres, which carry mechanical stimuli.
The resultant effect is a transient relief of pain associated with DOMs. This would be similar to the way in which we rub our head after banging it on a doorway. (Melzack & Wall, 1965)
Ultimately, there is still a lack of comprehensive research covering the topic. Massage guns however are a simple and safe tool when used correctly, they are widely accessible, and may offer a convenient solution to transient post gym aches, pains and stiffness.
As always, if you experience pain that is more widespread or are concerned you have an injury, you should start with a trip to your local physician.
What Is A Massage Gun?
A personal massage gun, also known as a percussive massager, is a small hand-held device that delivers varying pulses, intensities and bursts of pressure deep in to the intended myofascial tissues.
In the early days of the technology a massage gun was essentially a repurposed hand-held jigsaw tool, just like you would use for your home DIY. Since then, manufacturers have optimised their designs to produce very slick, ergonomic devices that pack a lot of power in to one small easy-to-use unit.
Typically, you can expect to find a good massage gun for personal use for around $250-400 AUD. A more professional device such as a Theragun PRO could cost approximately $800-1000 AUD, whereas a simple entry-level device such as Renpho Massage Gun are available for less than $200 AUD.
Each manufacturer produces slightly different designs and accessories, with their own take on the attachment heads used to deliver the percussive vibrations to specific areas around the body. Often you will see some variation of the following:
- Round Head: General, all round use.
- Two Pronged Head: To use along the spine, in order to avoid direct impact to the superficial protuberances.
- Flat Head: For use on wider but still sensitive areas, such as the muscles of the lumbar spine.
- Bullet Head: For accessing deep fascia and trigger points, such as the plantar fascia of the foot.
How To Use A Massage Gun?
There is no right or wrong way to use a massage gun when treating muscles and fascia. The important thing is that you do what feels best.
Most massage guns allow the user to change the percussion speed, and some higher end devices can change firmness and pulsation patterns.
Personally, in clinic I like to start on one side of a muscle, slightly below its insertion on to the bone, and work up and down over 20-30 seconds as I gradually find my way across to the opposite side.
I find that getting too close to the bone can be uncomfortable for the client, especially with the wrong applicator head. Therefore it’s always good to find a chunk of flesh closer down toward the main muscle belly and you can’t go wrong.
I try to focus on hovering gently up and down the muscle belly initially to avoid over-working the tissues and causing any bruising or tenderness. After two to three minutes, or longer for bigger muscles, I can then work in to some firmer pressure to treat any specific trigger points.
A trigger point is a focal area of acute hyper-irritability, often felt as a small nodule, which has the ability to refer tenderness to the areas around it.
For areas such as the foot, I might start with the soft rounded head initially to work the superficial plantar tissues and inside arch.
I then move on to the smaller bullet shaped head which allows me to sink deeper into the plantar fascia and work on areas of specific tenderness and trigger points. This can be helpful in the short term when combined with work on the calf for patients with plantar fascia or Achilles problems.
If I am using a massage gun on a larger muscle like the Quadriceps then I follow the exact same principle, only this time I prefer to use the flat soft applicator head for the main bulk of the work. This allows me to create the percussive vibrations that transfer energy deep in to the myofascial tissue and muscle.
When I find a trigger point, I focus on that area for 60-90 seconds. I find it useful to slightly change the angle and move in small circles, so as to distribute the percussions evenly and not bruise or damage the tissue.
If the acute tenderness turns in to a less intense ache then I might increase pressure for a few seconds before moving off. If I don’t see any relief then I move away and come back to this point later on.
The important thing to remember when using a personal massage gun is that you do what feels best for you. Your body is great at giving feedback so when you find something that works, stick with it and you can’t go wrong!
If you are considering getting this handheld device, I have listed the best massage guns available in Australia along with my reviews.
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