If you follow any athletes online, there's a good chance you've seen enthralling videos of their muscles rippling under the pressure of a vibrating self-massager or massage gun, via a recovery technique called "percussive therapy" or "percussion massage." You might have wondered what those massage guns actually do, if they work and, most importantly, what a massage gun might do for you.
Many people, from professional athletes to recreational gym-goers to those with chronic pain, tout the benefits of massage guns and percussive therapy: speedier recovery, reduced muscle soreness and lactic acid build-up, which could mean less pain, improved range of motion, better blood circulation and more.
OK, so you're convinced you need a massage gun for percussion therapy to recover faster from your next grueling workout and reduce muscle pain, but before you buy, you should know that these devices can cost you upwards of $500. If that's too steep, you can definitely find less expensive massage gun options, especially if you don't need the intense force of a pricey model.
Also, keep in mind that the research on percussive therapy and massage guns, in general, is somewhat limited. There's some evidence that suggests it does help with muscle soreness, pain relief, blood circulation and general recovery, but not enough to make a conclusive statement.
Below are some key things to consider when buying a massage gun including power, portability and battery life and then some picks for some of the best massage guns at varying prices, including a budget option.
What to look for in a percussive massage gun
Speed and power: If you work out a lot and often experience muscle soreness, you should opt for a massage gun with at least two adjustable speed and power settings -- one being less intense so you can still use the gun on very sore muscles where you are experiencing muscle tension or pain.
Type of motion: Do you want just vibration, vibration plus thumping, vibration plus a circular motion, or some other combination? When shopping for a massage gun, make sure to take note of how the device delivers the therapy.
Portability: If you're going to be traveling with your massage gun, you'll want one that can easily fit into a bag or suitcase. Though most are indeed handheld massagers, some units are rather bulky, but there are a number of small, portable massage guns designed to be taken on the road so you can do your massage therapy anywhere.
Attachments and accessories: Where on your body will you use the massage gun? If you'll only use it on just your large muscles, such as your back and legs, you probably don't need many attachments or accessories. But if you intend to use it on specific areas, such as the arch of your foot or your neck, you'd benefit from attachments intended for those specific areas.
Battery life: A long battery life is always beneficial. The last thing you want is for your massage gun to die when you need it most.
Cost: Of course, you'll want to look for a therapeutic massager device within your budget. The most expensive massage guns usually offer more speed, power and motion settings. Less expensive massage guns might only come with one mode, but can still be effective.
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The Theragun G3 Pro is expensive, but it's received high praise for its deep muscle treatment from professional athletes in a wide range of sports, from basketball to CrossFit to golf. It's high-powered and efficient, delivering a max force tissue massage of 60 pounds at 40 beats per second to relieve soreness and muscle pain.
What buyers say: "If you're thinking about buying this, GET IT!" This reviewer continued, "I got it to get over chronic tightness in my back and hamstrings. It's better than I hoped! … Bottom line: get it. You won't be sorry."
The TimTam Power Massager delivers a powerful percussion therapy similar to that of Theragun, but at a fraction of the price. This TimTam model would be great for people who exercise intensely and frequently experience muscle soreness and muscle knots but don't quite have the budget for a Theragun.
What buyers say: "I've been suffering from chronic shoulder, back, and sciatica pain for many years, trying tons of different instruments and balls for some help with the pain," one buyer wrote. "The TimTam is lightweight and easy to use to target the specific areas that need relief. It does the work of a half-hour massage in five minutes. Completely amazing and life-altering.
A common theme within Amazon reviews for percussive therapy devices seems to be something along the lines of: "I love this, but it's loud." A few reviews on the Theragun and TimTam even mention that the devices frighten their pets.
Hyperice set out to solve that with the Hypervolt, which uses patented technology to reduce noise for a more relaxing massage experience. A quieter massage therapy gun might be the best choice for you if you actually want to relax while using it.
What buyers say: "I had to try someone else's before I would fork out the dough but I'm super glad we did. Works amazing on my shoulders and my wife's lower back. We sleep better, travel better, and just feel better using this thing a couple times a week."
For less than $30 (although it runs for $40 on the Wahl website), this percussive massager allows you to adjust the percussion massage intensity from light to intense, and it comes with four unique attachment heads to provide super-targeted deep tissue massage relief for your different muscle groups. The only downside to this device is that it uses a cord, not batteries, so it's not very portable.
What buyers say: One reviewer called it the "best hand-held massager I've ever had," and went on to say, "I have had IT band syndrome in my right leg and this massager has made a huge difference in my ability to move without pain."
This percussive massager combines heat therapy and dual pivoting heads for serious deep tissue massage relief for aches and pains. Heat increases blood flow and helps to loosen and relax tight muscle fibers and muscle knots while the percussive massage heads dig into the deep layers of your muscles. This is another that needs to be plugged in, so it may not be best for you if you want to travel with your percussion massage gun.
What buyers say: "This is the best purchase I have ever made for back and neck pain! I have bought moist heat pads, inversion table, lumbar braces, etc, but this is by far the best item for relieving discomfort."
The Thumper massager features a long (16-inch) design that makes it easy to target hard-to-reach spots like in between your shoulder blades. A common issue with self-massagers is that you must use your muscles to massage them, which is pretty counterintuitive and not at all like a massage chair. Thumper's design reduces the amount of effort and tension you actually have to put into moving the massager around your body.
What buyers say: One reviewer said, "I can't write enough adjectives that describe how I feel about this!!! AMAZING comes close to describing how I feel after using it, but I actually feel better than that."
The Purewave device is easily the best value out of all of these. It's not expensive enough to give you sticker shock, but it still delivers professional massager quality percussive therapy of up to 3,700 beats per minute. It's compact, cordless and lightweight (just 1.75 pounds), making it great for travel.
On top of that, it comes with six attachment heads, including a facial massage stick, to help reach your trigger points. It takes one hour to charge the Purewave's battery, which lasts for 180 minutes, or 20 to 30 minutes of use each day for a week.
What buyers say: Even professional massage therapists love this one, with one saying, "I love these so much that I use one in my practice and I also sell them. I looked for a long time, to find a massager that really had some punch to it and was a decent price. I found that with Pure Wave. It has great, adjustable percussive strength"
Originally published last month.