You’ve probably already heard of massage guns, whether it’s through your favorite fitness influencer, riveting slow-mo videos on social media, or your friend who’s always trying out the latest and greatest recovery tools. But if you think they’re just the latest fitness trend that’s sure to be gone in a year or two, think again. Muscle massage guns aren’t just great for viral videos; they are an incredibly beneficial tool that aids in injury recovery and prevention.
Massage has long been known to be beneficial for recovery, but going to a massage therapist to get rid of knots and pain on a daily basis isn’t realistic for most. This is why massage guns and the percussion therapy they use have become very popular in recent years. These wearable devices hit your muscles in rapid succession, essentially helping you recover faster. In fact, vibration therapy has been shown to help relieve the pain you feel after you exercise so you can get back to exercising faster. Furthermore, there are even studies showing how vibration therapy also helps prevent muscle damage if applied before a workout.
However, Dr. Jason Wersland, Therabody’s founder and chief wellness officer, points out that percussive therapy and vibration therapy are not the same thing. “It is important that people know that there is a difference between vibration and percussion. The body responds differently to each one,” he says. “Theragun pioneered percussion therapy, which is a deeper and more effective mode of body activation and recovery.”
Dr. Karena Wu, owner and clinical director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York, explains how this therapy works. “Rapid percussion really pumps the area and promotes fluid circulation. Massage itself is an ‘irritator’ to the muscle, designed to bring blood flow to an area,” she says. “If a patient needs to cover a lot of surface area in one session or if she really needs quick tissue heating, the massage gun is used first.”
Donald Zerio, a physical therapist at Spear Physical Therapy in New York, explains that massage guns work just like your tried-and-true foam roller. “They work in the same way that a foam roller works,” he says. “It’s another method of soft tissue mobilization that provides the benefit of loosening tight muscle tissue, providing a sense of relief and providing a short-term improvement in flexibility.”
Ashley Rozek, a physical therapist and clinical director at Spear, also says that muscle massage guns are a great tool for both recovery and pre-workout. However, to get the best use of them, you may want to seek professional help. “I think it’s important to go see a physical therapist and learn how to use the gun safely and correctly on her body so that she can use it effectively at home,” she says.
Zerio agrees with Rozek and says that knowing exactly how to use the massage gun is important. “There’s a certain amount of skill involved, and you can get hurt if you’re not careful,” he says. “We tell our patients to take their massage guns to a physical therapist so we can demonstrate how to use the different percussion heads and vary the depth and speed for specific muscle groups.”
There are tons of massage guns on the market, from a $600 premium Theragun to much, much cheaper ones on Amazon. To help you decide which massage gun to buy, we asked our experts for some tips on what to look out for.
Wu says to look for a device that is really comfortable to hold. “Ergonomically designed so that when you hold it, your arm doesn’t get tired,” she says. “The weight of the massage gun is important so you can again hold it against an area without straining your other arm.” She also recommends finding one that has multiple attachments so she can use it on different muscle groups throughout her body.
Zerio points out that speed and noise are some important factors to consider. “Common specs to pay attention to are the variety of drum heads provided with the product, the noise level (some of them may sound like a jackhammer), and the number of velocity options,” he says. “The more expensive massage guns have up to five speed options, which isn’t really necessary, when two or three is all you really need.”
However, Zerio says it’s actually more important to pay attention to depth than speed. Wu explains the difference. “Different speeds will translate to being softer and more calming rather than faster and more stimulating,” she says. “The depth of the percussion or the amplitude will translate into a more vibratory than percussive feel, which again would be applicable to shallower areas than deep areas.”
Below, we’ve listed the massage guns that fit our expert guide, as well as the massage guns that they themselves use in their practice.
Sonic Handheld Percussion Massage Gun ($99.99, originally $179.99; amazon.com)
With eight interchangeable heads, five speeds, and an ergonomic design, this deep muscle massager is the cheapest on our list at $99. But don’t let the price fool you – the Sonic Percussion Gun still has everything you need for a complete massage.
Vybe Pro Percussion Massage Gun ($151.39, originally $199.99; amazon.com)
With nine speeds, eight attachments, a 12-millimeter amplitude, and a long, ergonomic handle, the Vybe Pro ticks all the boxes. Additionally, three of the heads on this massager are made of metal to really penetrate deep tissue.
PureWave Gen II Dual Massager ($149.95; padousa.com)
“I use the PureWave Gen II Dual Massager because I think it’s applicable to a broader population,” says Wu. “It has a long handle design, which is the only massage gun that can reach the lower legs and the entire rear without sacrificing the other parts of the body. The PureWave is great because it has more attachments (seven instead of typically four) and a percussion (for larger muscle groups) and vibration side (for smaller, shallower areas). PureWave also has 12 speeds, which means you can apply it to more sensitive people.”
Theragun Prime ($299; theragun.com)
“Our unique combination of amplitude, frequency and torque makes Theragun more effective at improving movement and aiding recovery than any other device available,” says Wersland. Theragun Prime is the brand’s second cheapest massage gun and features a 16-millimeter amplitude, which means it can penetrate deeper into your muscles than most other massage guns you’ll find. Additionally, Theragun Prime has Bluetooth compatibility, allowing you to pair it with the Theragun app, where you can view tutorials on recovery routines and more.
Sonic X Personal Percussion Massage Gun ($149.99; amazon.com)
Zerio uses the Pulse Fx massage gun from LifePro, which is sadly no longer for sale. However, this massage gun from the same brand features six different attachments and has an ergonomic, curved handle for easy massage.
Theragun Mini ($199; theragun.com)
Theragun Mini is the brand’s lightest and most portable option, weighing in at around 1.5 pounds. It has a 12-millimeter amplitude and three speed settings, and when we tried it out for ourselves, we loved its quiet and effective massage experience. The mini size is perfect to take to the gym so you can recover immediately after training. If you’re an athlete or fitness trainer looking for a more powerful device, check out our full breakdown of Theragun’s latest line of massage guns here.
Hypervolt ($249, originally $349; amazon.com)
This popular massage gun comes with five attachments and three speed settings, and it weighs 2.5 pounds. Its high-torque motor ensures a powerful and effective massage no matter where you take it.
Opove Massage Gun ($199.99, originally $209.99; amazon.com)
This massage device from Opove has a 15-millimeter deep amplitude, 50 pounds of stopping force, and five attachments to give you a deep and powerful massage. It’s also pretty light, weighing in at just 2.3 pounds, so your arm won’t get as tired hitting those hard-to-reach places.