In the loud and crowded marketplace of sore muscle treatments, percussive therapy has emerged as the premiere choice for muscle relief.
Also known as vibration therapy, percussive therapy works by delivering a series of quick blows that penetrate deep into soft tissue. These blows activate muscles, increasing blood flow and breaking up lactic acid deposits that could hinder muscle recovery.
For those looking to benefit from this treatment, the go-to method is typically a percussive massage gun. These sleek, modern devices promise results, but a flooded market of hyper-expensive “cure-all” devices and cheap knockoffs have made effective treatment, and quality information, harder to find.
With that in mind, we at Drum have set out to craft the ultimate guide to percussive therapy, massage guns and the general science of muscle relief. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, we want to demystify this treatment so that you can harness it whenever and wherever you need it. Sound good? Let’s get started:
Tips For Beginners
Percussive therapy is simple, safe and suitable for everyone.
With that being said, there are a few necessary steps to ensure you get the most from your treatment:
- Make sure you turn on the massage gun before pressing it onto your skin. Starting the gun once it's already on your skin is a common cause of bruising.
- Hover above the muscle and don’t press down too hard. The massager gives you all the pressure you need, so trust it.
- Start out easy. Massage guns have a number of speed settings; the highest of which are meant for experienced users.
- Don’t use the massager on your joints, face, head, or injuries (More on this below).
- Relax! Tense muscles are painful and slower to recover.
What Muscle Groups Should I Target?
With percussive therapy, there is no real “limit” to which muscle groups you can target. A good massager can stimulate recovery for any muscle on the body, provided you find the speed, head attachment and technique that works best for you.
However, as a rule of thumb, the massagers are best used on the muscle groups that you activate during exercise, as these are the muscles that often undergo the most strain.
For example, if you like to bench press, you should apply the massage gun to the triceps, shoulders, and pectoral muscles activated during that exercise. If you squat, you should apply the massager to the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. As with all treatment, the key is listening to your body. Our muscles are great at telling us what to do, we just need to pay attention.
Where Should I NOT Use the Massage Gun?
While vibrational massage is an excellent way to relieve sore muscles, this treatment method definitely isn’t a “cure all” for any injury or strain.
Using percussive therapy on non muscular parts of the body can have serious negative consequences. For relief in these areas, put down your massager and go to a doctor. Trust us!
Front of Neck, Face, or Head
Even if these areas are sore, we urge you not to use a massage gun for relief. Doing so on the front of the neck can cause a stroke or rupture of the internal carotid artery. Use on the face could cause serious facial injuries.
Muscle Strains (Pulled Muscles)
This is often the most confusing “off limits” area for massage gun users, so listen up:
Muscle strains, or pulled muscles, occur when the muscle is stretched past its normal range of motion. This results in small, often painful tears along the muscle. This is different from a sore muscle, which is a healthy and normal response to basic exercise.
You can tell the difference between the two because muscle strains cause sharp, long-lasting pain that is much more intense than the soreness you experience after a good workout.
While it can be tempting to use a massage gun on a muscle strain, please don’t. It can exacerbate the tears and dramatically slow down recovery. Sound fun? Not so much.
Similar to a muscle strain, a sprain is when a joint is stretched beyond its normal range of motion. The difference is that the damage in a sprain is to a ligament or tendon rather than a muscle.
Often a result of a more dramatic injury, sprains often cause an infamous “pop” sound accompanied by a jolt of pain in a joint or ligament.
If you experience a strain, don’t even bother trying to treat it yourself. Stop exercise immediately and consult a doctor.
While it can be easy to lump muscle and joint pain together, they are very different beasts.
Percussive massage therapy is intended to offer pain relief to sore or tight muscles, improve muscular mobility, and increase blood flow. It does this job well and consistently.
Percussive therapy is NOT intended to increase joint flexibility or relieve joint pain. Any attempt to do so will almost certainly result in further injury.
This might sound blunt, but we say this with love: there is NO good reason to use a massage gun on a bone, ESPECIALLY a broken one.
While we know you are a go getter who may not like asking for help, a damaged or broken bone isn’t something you mess with. If you feel pain deep under your skin and aren’t sure what sort of injury it is, try your doctor, not your massage gun. Percussive therapy on a bone can cause substantial, permanent damage and even lead to internal bleeding.
A good rule of thumb here is that anything ending in -itis is inflammation-related. The trick to getting rid of inflammation is RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. This decreases blood flow, lessening inflammation. Massage guns, on the other hand, increase blood flow and worsen inflammation -- not ideal.
Conditions such as muscular dystrophy, arthritis or osteoporosis should not be treated with a massage gun unless directed by a doctor.
This isn’t to say that only people with perfect health stand to benefit from percussive therapy, as percussive therapy may help with some chronic conditions, but only after a doctor’s approval.
When Should I Use A Percussive Massage Gun?
The best time to use a massage gun depends on what your goals are, but in general there are two ideal use cases - prior to (or even during) a workout to aid with activation and injury prevention, and after a workout to aid in recovery.
A massage gun can be used before working out to activate muscles and nerve fibers.
Basically, when your body engages in physical activity, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. Also known as your “fight or flight” response, the sympathetic nervous system prepares your body for activity by boosting your alertness, sending blood to your muscles, increasing heart rate, opening your airways, and limiting digestion. Sounds good, right?
Percussive massage helps you begin the activation of this system and prepares you for any kind of activity. It also helps increase your range of motion, but should still be used in conjunction with your regular stretching routine.
Whether you’re rehearsing an instrument, preparing for an esports matchup or training for a marathon, pre-workout percussive therapy can get your body in the right state to perform your best out of the gate.
Percussive therapy can also be used mid-workout to reactivate muscles. If your muscles start to fatigue or spasm, simply apply the massage gun to the affected area in targeted, 15 second bursts.
This technique is best for weight lifting or other set-based workouts where there are clearly defined periods between sessions.
Note: In the middle of a workout, it’s easy to get carried away and apply too much pressure during treatment. DO NOT do this. You’ve made the effort to get to the gym, don’t set yourself back with another injury. As always, gently apply the massager and listen to what your body is telling you.
Whether you’re an athlete, a gamer, a musician or just someone looking to better their lives, THIS is where percussive massage therapy really shines. This is where the treatment we love can take you to the next level, no matter what your goals are.
Applying a massage gun to sore muscle tissue loosens the muscle up, increases blood flow, reduces lactic acid and relieves tightness. This brings more nutrients to your muscles, speeding up your recovery.
For the best results, apply the percussive massager to each muscle group for up to 2 minutes. Feel free to continue using the massage gun throughout the day in 1-2 hour intervals to continue muscle recovery.
Which Head Attachment Should I Use, And Where?
Most percussive massage guns on the market come with a variety of head attachments designed for different muscles. It is important to know which head attachment is meant for which muscle groups so you can get the most out of your treatment:
Bullet Head/Finger Head
Intended for deep muscle tissue and trigger points, this head digs into the muscle to target knots in areas that wider or softer heads cannot.
It can be used on most muscle groups, but is especially effective on thick tissue such as the quads or glutes. That being said, this attachment is known for providing a more aggressive massage than other options, so we recommend getting your sea legs with the other options first.
This head has a flat circular shape and is great for relieving pain and soreness in denser areas such as the back, thigh, or chest. Easy to use and very effective, this is a great option for beginners, particularly those who struggle with stubborn lower back pain.
Another great for beginners, this attachment has a soft, round head that feels great just about anywhere. Providing a light but powerful treatment, this head offers a shallower massage that is excellent on sensitive areas such as the bottom of the feet and back of the neck. Pro tip: try our large ball attachment on the bottom of your feet… thank us later.
This two-pronged attachment may look funny, but we don’t judge a book by its cover and neither should you.
The “fork” is highly regarded for reducing calf and Achilles soreness, but it also provides relief to difficult-to-reach spots on the back of the neck and back. The key here is to position each “head” of the fork on either side of the affected area, allowing the vibration to penetrate both sides for lasting relief.
The pneumatic head is an air-filled attachment that gives great penetration while also being gentle on the muscle tissue. This attachment works great for softer tissue and more sensitive areas.
Using a Percussive Massage Gun
Now that you understand the basics of your massage gun, here is how you actually use it:
- Turn the massage gun on (to a low setting) away from your body.
- Gently begin to hover the massage gun back and forth along the target muscle area.
- If you find any knots, hold the massage gun there for 30 seconds.
- After 2 minutes on one muscle, move on to the next.
Not so bad, right? Plus, the beauty of a percussive massage gun is that you can bring it anywhere and use it anytime. No “secret sauce” or training required.
At Drum, our mission is simple: premium, percussive therapy at a great value.
We have crafted the Drumgun, our new percussion massager, with this pursuit in mind. Equipped with six head attachments, four different speeds and an ergonomic grip that allows you to reach areas that others simply can’t, the Drumgun promises you muscle relief without breaking the bank. It’s that simple.
No gimmicks, no tricks and no promises to make you a perfect person. Just ultra quiet, powerful percussive relief. Want in?
Join #teamdrum today.