Active Recovery

These Are the Best Massage Guns for Sore Muscles, According to Physical Therapists

Tamara Pridgett

Photo: Getty Images
There's a reason why you're seeing massage guns all over social media and beyond: They can be a really effective tool post-workout. Being sore after a workout is often inevitable, but if you have a good recovery routine (yes, a recovery routine is imperative) you can decrease your soreness, reduce your risk of injury, and improve your overall performance. Making sure that you're eating the right foods to fuel you and aid in recovery, stretching, and getting quality sleep are all great ways to improve your overall mood and make sure that you can perform all the workouts and training modalities your heart desires. And if you're feeling particularly sore and your foam roller just won't cut it, massage guns can help tremendously.

What do massage guns do?

Massage guns may relieve tension and soreness by combining massage and vibration therapy—but there isn't a lot of research out there on massage guns and their efficacy. "While the scientific evidence is low and there are not many studies currently that examine the effectiveness of massage guns, the idea is that percussive massage treatment with the massage guns likely combines the elements of a conventional massage and vibration therapy," says Leada Malek, PT, a board-certified sports specialist in San Francisco.

Massages can reduce tension in your muscles, improve flexibility, and increase blood flow, which all help to reduce and eliminate muscle soreness, she adds.

Vibration therapy has been found to improve kinaesthetic awareness, Dr. Malek says, in addition to improving muscle performance and recovery which can help limit delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Massage guns can also help reduce lactic acid build-up which can also contribute to DOMS, says David Jou, PT, DPT, co-founder of Motivny in New York City. "So with the guns, the idea is that treating the muscle this way leads to faster recovery from injuries, workouts, and better overall performance," says Dr. Malek.

Best massage guns

massage guns
Theragun Elite — $399.00

This is Dr. Malek’s favorite massage gun “because of its adjustable head and the multi-grip handle that you can use at different angles.” This massage gun is powerful, but ultra-quiet so you can use it while catching up on your favorite shows.

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massage guns
Hyperice Hypervolt — $249.00

Both Dr. Jou and Dr. Malek say this massage gun is one of their favorites. Dr. Jou likes it in particular because it’s easy to handle, offers customizable settings, and also quiet.

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massage guns
Theragun Mini — $199.00

If you’re always on the go, you’ll want to check out the Theragun Mini as it can be thrown into nearly any bag without weighing you down, which is one reason Dr. Malek likes this massage gun. “The Theragun Mini is an excellent option for travel and can fit in a backpack. It’s great if you plan on going hiking, camping, or off to a game and want to do a quick session while on the go,” she says.

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Hyperice Hypervolt Go — $199.00

If you love the standard Hyperice Hypervolt, but want something small you can pack without taking up too much space, try the Hyperice Hypervolt Go. It features three different speeds and two head attachments.

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Best massage guns on Amazon

massage guns
Fitpulse Muscle Massage Gun — $80.00

The Fitpulse Muscle Massage Gun is one of the most popular on Amazon with over 6,000 ratings. It comes with 17 head attachments to target every muscle in your body from your neck to your feet, as well as a case for storage/to make traveling easier. This massage gun also features 30 different speed levels—for relaxation or to feel like a deep tissue sports massage.

Promising review: “I bought this massager after my friend used his on me, and decided immediately I needed one. I have multiple injuries and a lot of tightness. I love all the different heads that come with it to use on different parts of the body. For the back and lower shoulder area you will need help to reach them. It seems to make a difference that you can feel all day. When I wake up with a headache I can use it on my neck and upper shoulder to relax the muscles enough to get back to sleep, which is a complete relief” –Christina & Chris

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massage guns
Y8 Pro Max Deep Tissue Percussion Massage Gun — $100.00

This is another popular deep tissue massage gun on Amazon, designed to be used all over your body to relax and loosen up your muscles.

Promising review: “My back pain and neck pain has been a problem for years. It always bothers me and limit[s] my movements. I used to take pain reliever medicine regularly whenever I have bad muscle pain. At my age of 56 years old and still working, I really need a long lasting solution for my problem. Now that I have decided to try this massager, I will definitely say that it really works wonder[s] on my body. It is really effective. I don’t have to take my pain reliever medicine anymore. It is a good decision that I decided to invest in this massager considering [I’m pain-free now]. Furthermore, this small machine is well made; very high quality. With high battery capacity of 4800 mAH, it gives you more hours of use before re-charging. The motor is brushless; therefore, it is quiet and long life” –Frederick

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massage guns
Theragun Pro — $599.00

If you’re serious about your recovery game and your muscles functioning optimally, the Theragun Pro is for you. This version of the Theragun provides professional-grade muscle treatment (if you can’t get in to see your favorite masseuse, you’re in luck!), and also features a customizable speed range, in addition to having an ergonomic grip. Plus, if you’re new to using massage guns, this one connects to the Therabody app which hosts multiple routines specific to body parts and activity, in addition to custom wellness routines.

Promising review: “I’ve been a fan of Theragun for a while. I’ve had the G3Pro since it came out and WOW was I impressed by this new one!! Super quiet with a really sleek screen. I’ve always been a fan of changing out the attachments, so nothing new there. I’d definitely recommend this PRO for anyone who regularly works out or is behind a computer all day!” –Sarah G

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Best massage guns under $100

massage guns
Kelices Deep Tissue Massage Gun — $40.00

Want to feel like you just got a massage from a pro whenever you need it? Try the Kelices Deep Tissue Massage Gun. It comes with 10 heads to target different muscle groups throughout your body, a carrying case, and has 30 different speed levels to suit your needs on all occasions.

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massage guns
Cryotex Massage Gun — $70.00

If you’re after deep muscle relaxation, you can’t go wrong with this massage gun from Cryotex. It’s lightweight (two pounds to be exact), comes with six different massage heads, is quiet, and also comes with a carrying case.

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massage guns
Cholas Massage Gun — $50.00

Get everything you want in a massage gun for an affordable price with this offering from Cholas. It has 10 heads, is ultra-quiet, has 30 different speeds, and the battery life lasts for six hours before needing to be charged.

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How to use a massage gun

There aren't official rules on how to use a massage gun (definitely take a look at the instruction manual!), but it may be most beneficial to use it right after exercising. "To decrease workout-related soreness, it's ideal to use the massage gun immediately post-workout to increase circulation that aids in flushing lactic acid and toxins from your muscles," says Dr. Jou.

In addition to using the massage gun immediately after training, Dr. Jou also recommends using it the following day to ensure your muscles stay loose and mobile.

As far as time is concerned, Dr. Malek says using the massage gun for 15 seconds to two minutes on various muscle groups tends to be effective. "You can sweep over the muscle lightly with the gun or add pressure," she says. Some massage guns even have monitors that connect to apps, informing you on how much pressure you're applying and how long you've been working on one area, which can be a helpful tool.

Regardless of how you decide to use your massage gun, Dr. Jou and Dr. Malek recommend staying on the muscle versus going over bone and attachment points, as this can cause discomfort.

One of the best things about massage guns is that you can use them practically all over your body where there's a decent amount of muscle mass. That means it can be used to alleviate neck pain, lower back pain, and sore muscles after running. Afterward, many feel like they just got a deep tissue massage.

Dr. Malek recommends finding an area that feels tight, focusing on the belly of the muscle (the middle), beginning to lightly sweep over the bulk of the muscle. You can stay there for a minimum of 15 seconds to two seconds, adding pressure if you can tolerate it, but it shouldn't be painful using a massage gun.

What to look for in a massage gun

Before investing in a massage gun, Dr. Malek says to think about your level of activity and what you'll be using the massage gun for. She also recommends purchasing a massage gun that has good reviews and is of quality—she says the higher frequency guns are sturdier—so that it doesn't break after a few uses.

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