From professional athletes to Joe Bloggs jumping on the trend, massage therapy devices have become the new craze in recent months, as a kind of replacement for the hands-on treatment which was temporarily unavailable during lockdowns.
Massage devices are a form of percussive therapy, similar to vibration therapy, these treatments are believed to increase blood flow, reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs), and improve range of motion.
But what does the research really show? And are you using your device correctly to get the best results?
First things first, let’s find out what it is.
Percussive therapy is described as a deep muscle treatment, using rapid and long vertical strokes into the muscular tissues causing a neuromuscular response.
This means that the muscular tissues are adapting their properties to prepare for a mechanical change, due to the massage device altering the muscular and nervous system.
Anyone with muscle tension can benefit from percussive therapy. You’ll be pleased to know that it is gentler than it looks and has relaxing and long-lasting effects.
However, there are some contraindications to be aware of, so it is always best to speak to a Soft Tissue Therapist beforehand to ensure the safe and correct use of the massage device.
For the best results make sure to combine the use of a massage device with hands on regular Soft Tissue Therapy, as this will guide your treatment plan and maximise your potential.
There is a long list of benefits to percussive therapy and massage devices, with ongoing studies reviewing the scientific and clinical validation so you can be confident in your use of these devices.
Below are some benefits which have been widely supported by evidence and feedback:
1. Increase blood flow
During exercise, your body releases lactic acid, this can cause muscular pain after workouts and impact your ability to exercise again, as well as perform day-to-day activities. An active recovery increases the circulation of healthy, oxygenated blood around the body and reduces the build-up of lactic acid.
This increase in blood flow can also be achieved with a massage device. The vibrations stimulate the nerve receptors causing dilation of blood vessels. This helps the muscles to recover and minimises muscular tension.
2. Reduce delayed onset muscle soreness
Do you ever wake up feeling sore and weak after a sweaty session the day before? Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can affect you up to 72hrs post workout, negatively impacting your exercise goals.
Percussive therapy and Soft Tissue Therapy are both effective in reducing DOMS because they help to break down tough fibrous bands of muscle tissue, often as a result of an injury, relax tight muscles and reduce soreness.
Maximising the use of a massage device immediately after a period of exercise will reap the biggest rewards. It is theorised that massage devices change the pain signals from your brain to your body through disruption of pathways, therefore altering your body’s perception, and reducing pain.
A study in 2014 showed the effectiveness of vibration therapy and Soft Tissue Therapy in preventing DOMS as subjects who received massages post workout had a quicker recovery time.
To make sure you find those sweet spots, Soft Tissue Therapists are trained to help underline the areas of greater tightness which will maximise your abilities within daily life.
3. Improve range of motion
Range of motion links to flexibility and the degree of movement a joint has. Muscular tension can be a contributing factor to reducing your range of movement. This may be impacting your workout or creating pain in certain movements.
There is limited research on the impact of percussive therapy on range of movement, but a small recent study found a greater range of movement in the calf muscle after 5 minutes of massage device treatment. Although this is not a powerful study, it does indicate the potential for greater results. Range of motion can also be improved by foam rolling, stretching and Soft Tissue Therapy.
Massage devices can be used by all, if you understand the basics, you can maximise the benefits.
Many devices have different speed settings. Finding the right pressure for you is important. More pressure does not always equate to better results. Start low and slow, letting the device float over the muscles. There is no need to force the device into the area of discomfort as the machine penetrates the muscles already, gliding it slowly over areas of soreness will create the best results.
Begin on larger muscle groups and aim to avoid bony areas. The treatment should be relaxing and reduce tension throughout the body. Massage devices do not need to be used for extended periods of time, between 30 –90 seconds is recommended. This can be done before, during or after exercise.
As these areas are either too weak to withstand the treatment, increase the risk of infection or are simply not ‘meaty’ enough and could be painful.
As you can see, there are lots of benefits of using a massage device if used safely and effectively. The overarching positives are that it helps improve blood flow, reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, and increase range of movement; enabling you to keep up with the intensity of your workouts or even the stresses of work life.
To get the best results for your goals — whether athletic or everyday — book an appointment with a Soft Tissue Therapist and make sure you’re using your device in the most optimal way.