How to Use a Percussion Massager

So you got one of these popular handheld percussion massagers, now what?

Given the gun-like design that most of the popular massagers have, I am sure you would agree that how to use it seems rather obvious.

Just point the massager over the desired location,  e.g. a sore or overworked muscle and go from there (point and shoot).

But what about the intensity, which massage tip/head should you use, and for how long?

In this post, I am going to help you answer those questions so you can use your massager more effectively.

Where To Use It?

One of the benefits of percussion massagers is the ability to use it on pretty much any part of the body.

Some of the more powerful massagers will even allow massaging deep into thick muscle tissue like the thigh that would otherwise be inaccessible by hand.

You should be able to massage your neck, upper back, lower back, chest, deltoids, upper arms, forearms, hands, glutes, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, quads, adductors, feet, and shin.

However, you will want to be careful with massaging around joints and bones and close to the spine and head. In addition, some muscle tissue is thinner than other and you should adjust accordingly.

When you are using the massager on some sore muscle tissue, remember to not just massage that spot.

Muscles, tendons, and joints are connected and influence each other. The muscles up- and downstream in the body (kinetic chain) might be a contributing factor to that soreness.

E.g. tight biceps might contribute to sore pecs, and tight glutes might contribute to sore hamstrings.

In this video, Kelly Starret from MobilityWOD talks about how to best use a massager on sore muscle tissue and trigger points by flexing and releasing. He uses a popular massager called TimTam which I have reviewed here.

Adjusting The Intensity

Another great thing about these handheld percussion massagers is the ability to adjust and change:

  1. the massage speed measured in RPMs (revolutions per minutes), and
  2. use various massage tips/heads.

The specific muscle tissue, how sore it is, and individual pain thresholds should determine the intensity and massage tip/head

I know a lot of people enjoy a rough massage where uncomfortableness and even pain is an expectation.

While some pain is probably fine for most people, going overboard might cause more harm than good.

If the pain is obstructing your breathing making it difficult for you to take full breaths in and out, you should at least consider whether you are going too hard.

If the pain is making surrounding muscles or even the whole body tense, then this could also be an indication that you are going too hard.

Various Massage Tips/Heads

Most massagers come equipped with a dense ball. This is a good general choice for massaging both smaller and larger muscles.

Typically, you can also choose a cone-shaped tip that lets you massage smaller areas with greater precision and works well for targetting trigger points.

Another common one is a tip with a flat surface area for tender or bony areas.

The available options depend on the model and brand, but other options include a wedge, thumb, warm ball, and a cold ball.

How Long Should I Use A Massager?

With each percussion massager should follow instructions on suggested treatment durations.

Depending on the intensity, the standard maximum duration is somewhere around 15 – 20 minutes for full body. Not more than 2-3 minutes for each muscle group.

When to Use a Massager

Given the relatively small size of these handheld massagers, you can easily bring one with you and use it whenever you want.

Percussion massagers are generally safe and the amount of anecdotal evidence that these machines work well is overwhelming!

It might be particular useful to use a percussion massager in any of these cases:

  1. Muscle Soreness
  2. Shin Splints
  3. Muscle Spasms and Cramps
  4. Bursitis
  5. Tendonitis
  6. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  7. Sciatica
  8. Fibromyalgia

If you are an athlete or fitness enthusiast, you might find regular use to help with recovery. More on this below.

Given the potential intensity you might want to consult with a doctor if you suffer from any condition that could be affected.

Benefits Of Percussion Massage

Since you landed on this page, it is likekly that you have already heard of the many potential benefits of percussive massage.

Percussion massage is said to alleviate all sorts of muscle aches and pains. The exertion of force at extremely high pulsating speeds (e.g. 2500 RPM) should help break muscle adhesions, relax tight muscle and increase blood flow.

I have tried several of these massagers myself, and they do feel great. It does indeed seem to alleviate my sore muscles and basically make them feel less tight and increase range of motion.

I want to emphasize that this is more or less what all people are saying. As I mentioned above, the amount of postive anecdotal evidence is overwhelming!

Even Joe Rogan loves them. (Press the arrow or swipe right to see video. Warning: profanity😱😱). Read more about the TimTam here.


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However, the scientific evidence on the topic is surprisingly vague. We have no real answer to how massage actually works or under what circumstances. Not to mention that many of the claims you read online are nonsense.

There are various inconclusive studies on the topic, but in my opinion, the most notable effects that is suggested by some evidence are as follows:

  • It could help alleviate delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Read more about it here (meta-analysis).
  • Potentially speed up muscle recovery and performance due to the so-called myofascial-release. Read more about it here (meta-analysis).
  • Could make you happier and more relaxed by decreasing cortisol and increasing the level of the two neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Cost-Effective Alternative

If you have small to moderate issues e.g. tight neck and upper back, using a massager could spare you from going to a masseuse, physical therapist or chiropractor.

And if your issues are worse than that, the massager could perhaps help you recover faster and make the treatments less frequent or fewer.

From that perspective, getting one of these massagers from Theragun could prove a cost-effective alternative since visiting a professional clinic quickly adds up!

Bottom Line

Remember to adjust the intensity and use the right massage head/tip!

If the pain from using the massager is obstructing your breathing or tensing your surrounding muscles, you might be overdoing it and can potentially do more harm than good.

I hope this helped you understand how to better use your percussion massager. If you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

Finally, if you are interested in learning more about the various percussion massagers on the market, you should check out this review.

About the author: My name is Marcus, I am a lawyer (LL.M.) and the founder of this website. Besides sometimes doing lawyer stuff, I like to write about fitness and health and share what I have found “works” for people like YOU. If you want to know more about me and my vision for this website then you can click here.

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