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Published: Dec 16, 2022 10 min read
Three Massage Guns on a colored background
Courtesy of Amazon

There’s nothing better than a massage to loosen knots and soothe sore muscles. If the prospect of regularly paying $50 or more for professional massage sessions just seems too costly, it may be time to look into the DIY approach with a massage gun.

A massage gun is a one-time investment that can deliver quick, targeted pain relief and aid in recovery by mimicking how therapists knead, roll and loosen muscles to release tension.

Also known as percussive massagers, massage guns have a drill-like design with a head that moves back and forth, delivering thousands of pulses per minute. The rapid pulsating action penetrates deep into muscles to break up knots, increases blood flow to promote faster recovery times, and reduces lactic acid buildup to decrease muscle soreness and aid range of motion. These and other benefits have made massage guns a favorite recovery tool of pro athletes — and amateurs too, of course.

Although these devices employ the same principle as traditional massages, they’re certainly no substitute for professional massage therapy. For proper treatment of chronically tight muscles or injuries, it’s best to consult an expert who can provide the appropriate pressure and precise motions required for each area of the body. But, when used correctly, a massage gun can complement your post-workout recovery or simply aid with general day-to-day aches.

It’s important to note that, when applying pressure to trigger points and sore muscles with one of these devices, it’s normal to feel some discomfort just as you would with a regular massage. However, if you feel sharp pain, it’s a good idea to stop using the device (at least on that area of your body), as you could be exacerbating an injury or causing your muscles additional stress. Additionally, applying too much pressure for too long can cause bruising.

Still, using a massage gun is completely safe as long as you don’t overdo it.

Massage gun buying guide

Three specifications determine a massage gun's intensity. Here’s what you need to know about them as you shop for a device:

• Percussions per minute. The speed of a massage gun is expressed as percussions (or strokes) per minute. If a massage gun has a speed setting of 1,000 percussions per minute, that means it can tap your muscles 1,000 times every 60 seconds.

Most massage guns have four or more preset speeds between 1,000 to 3,200 percussions per minute. At higher speeds, a massage will feel more intense.

• Amplitude. Amplitude (also called stroke length) refers to how far the massage head extends from the body of the device as it cycles in and out. The higher the amplitude, the deeper the massage head reaches into muscle tissue.

A high speed setting usually increases the intensity of a massage by itself. Paired with a high amplitude, it’ll maximize the device’s ability to loosen even the toughest knots. In fact, a massage gun with higher amplitude can feel more intense even at a lower speed.

Massage guns have amplitudes between 10 mm and 16 mm. Devices with 16 mm of amplitude are capable of deeper muscle treatment, which is why they are commonly used by serious athletes looking for more aggressive recovery treatments. Anyone with minor aches may do just fine with around 13 mm of amplitude.

• Stall force. As you apply heavier pressure on the skin, you’ll get to a certain point when a massage gun starts to lose power and stops operating fully. How much pressure the device can handle before stalling is known as stall force.

Most massage guns can withstand around 30 to 40 pounds of force. Higher-end models can handle up to 60 pounds, but this much pressure can feel uncomfortable for first-time users and might be necessary only for serious athletes.

Best massage guns

1. Best overall: Theragun PRO Deep Tissue Muscle Treatment Massage Gun

Courtesy of Amazon

The Theragun PRO is the latest massage gun by Therabody, a tech wellness company with devices popularly used by professional athletes and celebrities alike, including the NBA's Kyrie Irving and pop star Adam Levine.

With a 16 mm amplitude and up to 60 pounds of force, this massage gun can penetrate deep into muscle tissue to enhance muscle recovery, release tension and soothe aches.

It has five preset speed settings of 1,750, 1,900, 2,100, 2,200, and 2,400 percussions per minute (PPM). But if you connect it to the Therabody app, you can select any speed between 1,750 and 2,400 PPM, giving you a wider range of speeds to choose from than any other massage gun model around. The Therabody app also recommends guided massage routines by tracking your preferences, integrates with Apple Health, Google Fit, and Samsung Health and monitors applied pressure (also displayed on the Theragun’s OLED screen).

The massage head is adjustable; pair that with the triangular ergonomic handle and the Theragun can comfortably reach spots (in your back, for example) that would be difficult with other models. It comes with two rechargeable batteries (each one lasting up to two and half hours) and six head attachments.

The Theragun’s quality and reliability have made it a favorite among well-known athletes; if you’re not a pro athlete or don’t exercise often enough to need deep tissue relief and quick muscle recovery, this model might not be worth it given the high price tag ($600). For everyday pain and minor muscle soreness, a massage gun with less amplitude and fewer speed options may be just as beneficial.

2. Editor’s pick: Hyperice Hypervolt Percussion Massage Gun

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The Hypervolt, much like the Theragun, is a favorite among pro athletes for its deep reach into muscle tissues, delivering optimum pain relief and faster recovery. In fact, last year the NBA announced the Hypervolt would be the go-to massage gun for courtside recovery.

With the Hypervolt connected to the Hyperice app, you can select video-guided routines that explain how to position the massage gun, and the speed of the device automatically adjusts depending on the muscle groups being treated.

If you sync the app with Strava or Apple Health, you’ll get personalized recommendations based on your preferences and health trends. There are some additional massage routines available from pro trainers such as certified strength and conditioning expert Joseph Sakoda.

The main difference between the Hypervolt and other models is its motor. One of the most common complaints about massage guns is that they can be noisy, especially when used at higher speeds. The Hypervolt, however, sounds much more muted even at its fastest speed setting.

The Hypervolt ($200) features three speed settings (1,800, 2,400, and 3,200 percussions per minute), a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that delivers around two and three hours per charge, and a pressure sensor. It comes with five head attachments.

A newer version, the Hypervolt Plus, is also now available, at a higher price (around $400). Both devices have basically the same features, but the Plus has a 90-watt motor that’s 30% more powerful than the original and thus provides an even deeper massage.

3. Best mini massage gun: GLOUE Mini Massage Gun

Courtesy of Amazon

The GLOUE Mini Massage Gun is perfect for pain relief on the go. Not only is it lightweight (just under a pound) and tiny (around the size of a smartphone), it’s also much quieter than standard-sized massage guns. These features make the GLOUE ideal for quick massages while traveling or even on breaks in an office or other shared spaces.

This model won’t provide the deepest massage, but it's powerful enough for some pain relief from minor aches.

It comes with four head attachments, has four speed levels to choose from — with the maximum being 3,200 percussion per minute — and automatically stops after a certain amount of time to prevent injuring an area through prolonged use.

4. Best heated massage gun: Medcursor Heated Massage Gun

Courtesy of Amazon

Courtesy of Amazon

This massage gun comes with six massage heads and 12 speed settings, and it can reach 12 mm deep into muscle tissue. These are all fairly standard. However, the Medcursor has one important feature that sets it apart: heat.

One of the included massage heads heats up to around 118 F° as it massages your muscles. That’s an uncommon benefit in a massage gun at this price (around $110, when not on sale). Heat is known to help relax tight muscles and increase blood flow for faster recovery and improved range of motion.