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On paper, it looks great, but in real life and despite so many potential benefits, science is struggling to prove the effects of massage guns. In fact, studies on percussion therapy are not legion and on massage guns even less.
Even Hyperice which displays in large letters on the box of the product ” Percussion Massage Device ” relies on the benefits of ” Vibration Therapy ” (and not percussion therapy ) to explain the benefits of its product on the sales page.
The percussion hammers the surface of the body by sending deep impulses into the muscle tissue while the vibration is more superficial. Research on studies conducted on percussion therapy to date does not return much, if not studies on vibration therapy.
Starting from the principle “who can do the most can do the least “, we will go over some of them.
Vibration VS massage against DOMS
The first notable study was interested in the comparison of vibration therapy and traditional massage on 45 subjects against DOMS, muscular pains with late-onset (due to microscopic tears in the muscle fibers) which are likely to occur at everyone’s home (following an unusual or unfamiliar exercise) and can last from 24 to 72 hours after training.
The 45 subjects in the study were healthy women, but not athletic.
They were divided into 3 groups of 15 randomly and received either vibration therapy (50 Hz vibration for five minutes) or massage therapy (15 minutes) just before doing eccentric exercise. Note that the 3rd group (witness) received nothing.
Measures were taken immediately after treatment, then just after, then 24 hours after, 48 hours and finally 72 hours, including:
- Muscle pain (pain perception)
- Range of motion
- Maximum isometric force
- Maximum repetition (RM)
- Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) level
- creatine kinase (CK) level
Women who received treatment (vibration or massage) reported less pain than in the control group 24, 48, and 72 hours after exercise.
None of the groups showed any significant difference in maximum isometric strength at any time.
Massage therapy appeared to improve MR significantly compared to the control group and vibration therapy showed a significantly lower LDH level 48 hours after exercise (still compared to the control group).
The CK levels at + 48H in the vibration group and the massage group showed a significant difference compared to the control group.
The researchers concluded that “ vibration therapy and massage seem to be as effective as each other in preventing DOMS (body aches).” Massage is effective in restoring concentric force (RM). Vibration therapy shows a clinically early reduction in pain and is effective in lowering the LDH level within 48 hours of exercise. “
If these 2014 results seem promising, there are still many questions to date: what is the best protocol: what frequency, what intensity? Can we develop a tolerance to percussion therapy which would make it ineffective over time (like electrostimulation)? Can there be any side effects? Is the percussion totally safe? Etc.
Here a review of 81 scientific studies on vibration therapy indicates that: “Vibration therapy provides anabolic mechanical signals to bones and the musculo-tendon system. They imitate movement and exert a positive influence on muscle function and coordination. The influence on bone metabolism is obtained by the mechanical regulation of mesenchymal stem cells, which provide the progeny for bone growth. Although there is no universal consensus on the ideal protocol to adopt, the transmission of low amplitude and high-intensity mechanical signals mimics the physiological stimuli that the human body is confronted within everyday life. That would guarantee safety effects comparable to those of light exercise programs. “
This other analysis of 42 scientific references on vibration therapy had concluded in 2014 that “the mechanical oscillatory movement provided by vibration therapy could represent an effective intervention to improve the neuromuscular performance of athletes as well as potential hormonal responses, which results in reduced pain and potentially lymphatic drainage. However, very little research has been done in this regard, so we hope that this document will pave the way for further research in the future. “
In short, there may be some good in percussion therapy and massage guns, but the least that can be said at the moment is that research is sorely lacking to assert anything. You must, therefore, exercise extreme caution when using your new consumer devices and correctly set your expectations.