Feeling stressed out and tight? A massage therapist can help work out those stress-induced kinks. But what if you don’t have the budget or time to see one?
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With an ever-increasing array of massage guns, you might find that relief fits in the palm of your hand. Physical therapist Gary Calabrese, DPT, offers tips for how to effectively use a personal massager — for benefits beyond stress relief.
Massage guns: How they work and how to use them
Portable massagers use vibrations to warm your muscle tissue and increase blood flow to the area. “Think of it as a mini hammer, repeatedly impacting the soft tissue, causing blood flow to increase in that area,” says Dr. Calabrese. “The gentle pressure can decrease any tight muscle tissue or soften scar-like tissue, called adhesions, thus helping to elongate the muscle fibers.”
Dr. Calabrese says portable massagers, used properly, are safe and effective at delivering a quick hit of relief to the regions of the body where people often carry stress (like the neck, shoulders and lower back). He also finds them effective at warming up the muscles before activity or helping with cool-down:
Targeting a massager for six to 10 minutes on a group of muscles like the calf or thigh helps get those muscles ready for activity. By prepping the tissue, you are less likely to cause damage.
“Some people might prefer jumping jacks or another form of whole-body warm-up,” says Dr. Calabrese. “But if you’re working only certain muscle groups, targeting the massager to those muscles may be more efficient.”
A buildup of lactic acid in the muscles is one of the reasons you experience muscle pain after exercise or activity. Using a handheld massager after activity can reduce or delay muscle soreness by decreasing the ability of the muscle fibers to hold onto the lactic acid.
What to look for in a handheld massager
The commercially available massagers come in an array of sizes, shapes and price. Whether you need to target one muscle or a group of muscles, there’s a right-sized massager for you.
The price point for home-use massage guns is anywhere between $100 and $500. These four features can help you choose the massager that’ll make you say “aaahhhh”:
- Speed: Having multiple speeds makes a massager more versatile.
- Weight: Being able to control the massager with one hand is key, since you will hold it for up to 10 minutes while working on a muscle or muscle group. Look for a massager in the 2- to 4-pound range.
- Noise: Some models are quiet, while some can be fairly noisy. If the sound detracts from its purpose (like if you’re hoping for a relaxing experience), consider a massager with a brushless motor.
- Battery: Battery life can vary considerably. Some can run three hours on a single charge while others need to be recharged after 90 minutes. Guns that have a replaceable rechargeable battery tend to be more expensive but may save you money over time. The ones without a replaceable battery might be less money, but if it goes kaput, you’ll need to buy a new massager.
Personal massagers won’t improve your game
“People often ask me if a handheld massager will improve athletic performance,” says Dr. Calabrese. “The research is clear that these devices have not been proven to improve speed or endurance. In general, they are not used as performance enhancement tool.”
However, research does point to one benefit, says Dr. Calabrese, which may be the positive potential for improving short-term performance. “Massagers could aid competitors who need to lift a weight or hit something one time,” he says. “The massager may increase performance in those instances because it’s prepares the muscle you’re using for that singular event.”