Percussion massage guns are gaining popularity among athletic communities and creeping into rehab clinics. Marketers claim that they improve performance, aid in recovery, promote relaxation, break up scar tissue, speed up healing, and more. However, a literature search reveals only two articles concerning the efficacy or use of these devices.
An Austrian study, which was the first to examine the effect of a 5-minute handheld percussive massage treatment to the gastrocnemius would have on dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM) and muscle performance (MVC) of the plantar flexor muscles. The investigators enrolled sixteen healthy recreationally active males. Each subject was randomly assigned to undergo the experimental or the control trial. Two days later, they completed the opposite trial.
The results of this study demonstrated that an increase in dorsiflexion ROM without a negative effect on MVC torque following the percussive massage treatment. The dorsiflexion ROM was a very noticeable increase following a single percussive massage treatment with the percussive massage device. The increase in ROM can be assumed that following the percussive massage treatment it is likely due a decrease in muscle stiffness.
With regard to the muscle performance, the percussive massage treatment did not result in changes in MVC. These findings are similar to other studies who did not find any changes in vertical jump performance following a 5-min percussive massage treatment of the lower leg muscles.
So, what can we take from this paper?
As these results are similar to what we would see with a conventional massage therapist, increasing ROM without effecting muscle strength, a treatment with a percussive instrument could be utilised in a warm-up regime to optimize the flexibility level of an athlete, without losing muscle performance.