Do I Need A Vibrating Massage “Gun”?
By: Keri Sotak, MS, ATC, CES, Owner, The Athletic Training Room, Oakland
Key Words: Percussion Therapy, Vibration Therapy, Vibration Massage, Handheld Vibrating Massage Device
If you are a manual therapist or are a fitness or sport enthusiast, there is a great chance you cannot log onto social media without seeing an advertisement for a handheld vibrating massager. There are expensive options, inexpensive options, 3 speeds, 20 speeds, and various attachments. Many of the handheld vibrating massage devices refer to the modality percussion therapy, and came on the market within the last couple years, offering an option for anyone who is interested in purchasing one. Percussion therapy is defined as bursts of short, even, and rapid movements to the body. Percussion therapy may also be called vibration massage or vibration therapy. But, what does it do, exactly, and should you make the investment in a device? Below we will examine the claims many vibration massage device manufacturers make, and whether or not the research supports these claims. These claims include faster recovery time, increased ranges of motion, and increased blood flow. Knowing the effects of vibration massage will help determine when the therapy should be used and how you can incorporate it into your practice or exercise routine.
Recovery is an important part of an active individual’s routine, making it an easy target for companies selling gadgets, devices, or services. Recovery is the process in which an individual heals their body and prepares their body for the next task. Many major handheld vibrating massage devices companies heavily advertise the benefit of recovery. For purposes of this article and research, recovery refers to the ability to use muscles after strenuous activity and also the prevention or minimization of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Research uses two main ways to measure the effects of vibration therapy on DOMS; visual analog pain scale and maximum isometric force/maximum voluntary isometric contraction. A visual analog pain scale is when the individual rates their pain, usually on a scale from zero to ten. This is a subjective way to measure patient outcomes. The maximum isometric force or maximum voluntary isometric contraction is when the individual’s maximum muscle contraction is measured. This can be thought of as a one rep max.
The research published on the use of vibration therapy for recovery is supported (1, 2, 3, 4). Studies support the claims that handheld vibrating massage device manufacturers make of aiding in the recovery process, leading to peak performance. These studies were measured by both patient perceptions using a visual analog scale and maximum isometric force. Many of the studies measured the maximum isometric force at baseline, directly after exercise, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours after exercise. Overall, vibration massage therapy does aid in recovery by reducing delayed onset muscle soreness.
Range of Motion
Another main focus of the benefits of vibration massage is increased ranges of motion. The research on vibration therapy and increased range of motion is not as straightforward as research pertaining to DOMS and muscle recovery. I found that there are studies that both support and do not support the use of vibration massage for increased ranges of motion (5, 6, 7). Additionally, one of the main studies examined supported the use of vibration therapy to increase ranges of motion, however, the method included vibrating foam rollers, and not vibration therapy alone (2). One study showed that vibration massage was as equally effective as fifteen minutes of stretching to increase ranges or motion (7). Overall, we did not find enough research to support or not support the use of vibration massage to achieve range of motion gains. More research is needed to evaluate the effects vibration massage has on range of motion.
Increased blood flow and circulation is a claim made by many of the handheld vibrating massager manufacturers. This makes sense, as we know massage increases circulation and can also aid in lymphatic mobility (8). Other studies concluded that vibration massage does increase blood flow to the limb it is applied to (9, 10). These studies found that vibration massage increases blood flow more than traditional massage. Interestingly, we also noted that an added effect when looking at blood flow and vibration massage, is that vibration massage aids in muscle relaxation (10). Through our literary search, it was noticed that there were no consistent parameters of vibration massage application to the tissue among the studies. Therefore, it is believed that more research needs to be performed to determine how long the vibration massage must be applied to benefit from increased blood flow and muscle relaxation.
Overall, much of the literature reviewed did support the claims that vibration massage promotes faster recovery, may increase ranges of motion, and increases blood flow. The research varied in the amount of time the vibration massage was applied to the body. Therefore, more research needs to be done to provide the minimum amount of time the therapy needs to be performed to achieve the desired effects. I found that many of the major manufacturers of the handheld devices did not provide a time parameter for the use of their devices. However, one manufacturer does claim that desired effects will take place in as little as 30 seconds (11). If you are looking to add a handheld vibrating massage device to your practice or routine, it may be a good investment as the research supports the claims of faster recovery, range of motion, and increased blood flow. Future research should examine parameters of the therapy, effects on range of motion, and the use of the therapy to promote tissue healing as it increases blood flow.
How to Incorporate Vibration Massage Into Your Routine
Vibration massage is a great tool to add to your professional tool box, or to your individual exercise routine. I often use a handheld vibration massage device as a substitute for a thermal modality, such as a heating pad. A vibrating massage device is much cheaper than a stationary bike, hydrocollator, or warm whirlpool, making it a valid option for those who travel, have limited space, or a limited budget. Additionally, I often use a device following manual therapies such as myofascial decompression (cupping), Graston Technique, or muscle releases. I find that it helps “recycle” the ground substance brought to the surface of the tissue from manual therapies, back to the lymphatic system. Some patients feel localized tenderness following manual therapies, but the handheld vibrating massage device helps desensitize the area, helps with muscle relaxation, and decreases pain perception.
For individuals looking to add a device to their exercise routine and help with performance, there are many ways it can be incorporated. The device can be used prior to a warm-up to promote increased blood flow to “heat up” the tissue, and increase ranges of motion. It can also be used following exercise to decrease DOMS between workouts. I questioned whether the therapy should be used during exercise due to how it would affect muscular power. I found that vibration therapy has actually shown to increase muscular power (12). However, the study included a long-term whole body vibration massage therapy, rather than a one time localized application. It is possible more research needs to be done to examine the effects vibration massage has on acute muscular power.
Vibration massage therapy devices can be a great addition to manual therapy practices and exercise routines. Overall, there are cost-efficient options for anyone seeking to purchase a device. Vibration massage possesses many benefits, and therefore can be used for a wide variety of individuals.
- Imtiyaz, S., Veqar, Z., & Shareef, M. Y. (2014, January). To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939523/
- Romero-Moraleda, B., González-García, J., Cuéllar-Rayo, Á., Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Muñoz-García, D., & Morencos, E. (2019, February 11). Effects of Vibration and Non-Vibration Foam Rolling on Recovery after Exercise with Induced Muscle Damage. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6370959/
- KoH, H., CHo, S., Kim, C., CHo, B., Kim, J., & Bo, K. (2013, April). Effects of Vibratory Stimulations on Maximal Voluntary Isometric Contraction from Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Retreived from https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpts/25/9/25_jpts-2013-089/_pdf
- Guo, Jianmin, Li, Gong, Yuxiang, Zhu, … Chen. (2017, September 13). Massage Alleviates Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness after Strenuous Exercise: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2017.00747/full
- Sands, W., Mcneal, J., Stone, M., Russell, M., & Jemni, M. (2005, November). Flexibility Enhancement with Vibration: Acute and Long-Term. Retrieved from https://www.vibratech.co.il/_Uploads/dbsAttachedFiles/175.-Flexibility-Enhancement-with-Vibration.-Acute-and-Long-term.pdf
- Pournot, H., Tindel, J., Testa, R., Mathevon, L., & Lapole, T. (2016, February 23). The Acute Effect of Local Vibration As a Recovery Modality from Exercise-Induced Increased Muscle Stiffness. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763833/
- Atha, J. & Wheatley, D. W. (1976). Joint Mobility Changes Due to Low Frequency Vibration and Stretching Exercise. Retrieved from https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/10/1/26.full.pdf
- Weerapong, P., Hume, P., & Kolt, G. (2005). The Mechanisms of Massage and Effects on Performance, Muscle Recovery and Injury Prevention. Retrieved from Journal of Sports Medicine, 35 (3), 235-256.
- Button, C., Anderson, N., Bradford, C., Cotter, J. D., & Ainslie, P. N. (2007). The effect of multidirectional mechanical vibration on peripheral circulation of humans. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 27(4), 211–216. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-097x.2007.00739.x
- Taspinar, F., Aslan, U. B., Sabir, N., & Cavlak, U. (2013). Implementation of matrix rhythm therapy and conventional massage in young females and comparison of their acute effects on circulation. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 19(10), 826–832. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2012.0932
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- Cochrane, D. J. (2010). Vibration Exercise: The Potential Benefits. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(02), 75–99. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1268010