Anyone who's ever gotten a massage knows just how life-changing a few elbows in the back can be. You walk out of the parlor feeling zen and powerful, ready to take on all of life's obligations. Not to mention you smell like a variety pack of essential oils.
Despite the wondrous ability of percussion therapy to alleviate post-workout muscle soreness, in some situations, your muscles are best left alone. Keep reading to learn when you should go for a self-massage, and when you should steer clear or ask a doctor.
Injuries you should not use a massage gun on (without doctor supervision)
As innocuous as massage therapy seems, there are some cases in which you should not get a massage, or at least talk to your doctor before relaxing on the table. Considering the fact that massage guns are basically high-powered, self-administered massages, you should heed those same guidelines when using a Theragun or other percussion massagers.
If you have any of these injuries or conditions, think twice before powering on your massage gun.
This is what people colloquially call a "pulled muscle." Muscles get strained when they're stretched past their normal range of motion, often the result of overuse, improper use (bad form) or sudden motions that tear the muscle.
Muscle strains are usually painful, so you probably won't be tempted to use your Theragun on a pulled hamstring. But just in case you thought that was a good idea, it's not -- the powerful hammering motion of percussion therapy can further damage your muscles. Treat your pulled muscle with the PRICE method (protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation) and see a doctor if necessary. If you want to massage a strained muscle, start with gentle pressure using only your hands and apply pressure around the injury, not directly on it.
This isn't to say you must avoid massage guns until a strain is fully healed. In fact, limited research suggests that vibration therapy as part of an overall treatment plan can help people regain strength and flexibility in pulled muscles. This is best supervised by a doctor, however.
A sprain, although often mixed up with a strain, is actually a stretched or torn ligament. Ligaments connect two bones together. Like muscle strains, sprains occur when a part of your body is stretched past its normal range of motion, often very suddenly. You might hear a "pop" in your joint when the injury occurs.
You should avoid using a massage gun on torn ligaments to avoid any further damage, especially right after the injury happens. As your sprain starts to heal, talk to your doctor about massage and percussion therapy before trying any treatments on your own.
In medical terminology, itis is a suffix that means inflammation. So colitis literally means "colon inflammation." That's not one of the -itis conditions you need to steer clear of massage guns for, but you should use massage guns cautiously if you have any of these:
Tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon)
Bursitis (inflammation of the bursae, or fluid-filled sacs that cushion your bones from tendons and muscles)
Fasciitis (inflammation of the fascia, or connective tissue, most commonly diagnosed in the heel as plantar fasciitis)
Periostitis (inflammation of the periosteum, a layer of connective tissue that surrounds bone)
This might seem obvious, but don't use a massage gun near (and definitely not on) bones that are broken or healing -- not even if you've been cleared for exercise and feel no pain. If you are cast-free, that means your bone has mended and is in a stable position, but significant force (like that of a massage gun) can still cause severe pain and, in a worst-case scenario, damage your newly mended bone.
Autoimmune conditions such as lupus, scleroderma and multiple sclerosis
Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia or gout
It might seem like percussion therapy only benefits people in perfect health, but that's not necessarily the case. If you have one of the above conditions or injuries, there's still a chance you can benefit from a massage gun, but it's wise to discuss with your doctor first.
For example, if you have a shoulder strain, you can still use a massage gun on other parts of your body. And if you have arthritis, you can adjust the settings on your massage gun to a comfortable level, as well as use caution around areas that ache particularly bad.
In some cases, a doctor might clear you to purchase a massage gun but give you detailed instructions on when, where and how to use it. If that's the case, follow those instructions to avoid injury.
If your doctor advises you against self-percussive massage but you really, really want to try it out, ask about a referral to a physical therapist or chiropractor who uses percussive massage in their practice.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.