If you regularly suffer from tight, tense muscles and trigger points, you may already be familiar with the wonders of percussive massage tools. Trigger points are often resistant to manual muscle stretching, sometimes causing referral pain in other parts of the body when stretched. This referral pain causes the trigger point to tighten further and to engage the very muscle we’re trying to stretch. Percussive massage tools use fast vibratory action to deliver quick micro stretches to the muscles, allowing the tissues and trigger point to release quickly. The following article outlines the major benefits of percussive massage tools and how they can help you find pain relief.
Percussive massage devices are having a moment, and if you’ve tried one, you know why. These handheld devices are designed to ease discomfort, soothe tension and tightness, and promote faster muscle recovery. And they do all of that through percussive massage therapy. (Picture a sleek mini jackhammer that you can use on tight, tense muscles, and you get a general idea.)
Chiropractors and manual therapists of all kinds use versions of percussive therapy. If you’re curious to try it yourself, here’s what to know about the popular percussion tools.
What is percussive therapy?
Percussive therapy sends waves of impulses into the body’s tissues. Quick, repetitive bursts of pressure from the massage head—that rapid up-and-down movement—combine with specifically calibrated frequencies and amplitudes to create pressure and vibration. According to massage tool manufacturers, this results in better blood flow, less inflammation, and more range of motion—all of which can create a positive effect on the body and ease muscle tension and aches.
“What initially informed our products was my experience as a chiropractor and my own understanding of the body,” explains Jason Wersland, D.C., founder and chief wellness officer at Therabody, which manufactures the Theragun, arguably one of the most well-known on the market. “The creation was actually rooted in my own need for something to supplement my treatments as I was recovering from an accident.”
One of the percussive massage tools used in our clinic is the Muscle Liberator, designed by Coaching The Body Institute. It is a variable-speed percussion tool specifically intended for trigger point therapy. The high frequency percussive strokes cause mini-stretches in muscle fibers that cause the muscles to stretch and release faster than the neurological spindle response. This rapid percussive action can release trigger points and soften taut fibers, in a fraction of the time that would be required with manual methods.
While the appeal is clear for athletes or serious fitness enthusiasts, the benefits of percussive therapy aren’t only for muscle recovery. They seem to be effective on garden-variety aches and pains, too. “We use percussive therapy on almost all patients in our office,” says Lynelle McSweeney, D.C., a holistic chiropractor. “It always helps us to get in a deeper, longer-lasting effect on the joints and muscles, and it helps release trapped nerves, muscle spasm, and tissue adhesions.”
For Caitlin Moreland, P.T., DPT, a percussive massage device can be a great complementary tool with patients. “Manual therapy can be hard on the therapist’s hands or fingers, so equipment that is efficacious and gives us a break is always nice,” she notes.
What are the science-backed benefits?
While still somewhat limited, there is research that backs up the efficacy of percussive therapies. One study on the acute effects of percussive massage therapy, found that five minutes of treatment effectively increased range of motion in participants. The study authors theorized that percussive massage treatment likely combined elements of both conventional massage and vibration therapy. They also suggested this treatment may optimize flexibility, as part of a warm-up regimen. However, they noted that future studies should consider variables in massage durations, frequencies, and choice of massage heads.
All that said; it is important to note that the positive outcomes of percussive devices are reliant on combining treatments with chiropractic care or manual therapy. “While a percussive therapy tool may work in breaking up muscle tissue, thereby increasing oxygen and blood flow into the area, these tools do not introduce the necessary lengthening that tightened muscle groups need,” says Audra Testa, a licensed massage therapist. Instead, she advises considering massage devices a complementary therapy.
There is certainly much more to learn about this therapy method. And as the percussive massage therapy space continues to grow, it’s a safe bet that we’ll soon see studies digging deeper into the different applications and benefits of percussive therapy.
Precautions for percussive therapy.
Percussive massage therapy has its benefits, but it has its limitations, too. It’s not a fix for everything that ails you, and the best results come from a combination of manual and percussive therapy. “My hands give me necessary information about a patient’s body and manifest therapeutic touch for my patients, neither of which could be done with a massage gun,” says Moreland.
Testa has a similar opinion: “There are over 600 muscles in the human body, and it’s difficult for someone who isn’t schooled in anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology to pinpoint what’s ailing them,” she says.
If you would like to learn more about the benefits of percussive massage tools and how they can help you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org