When using a new massage gun it’s important to familiarize yourself with the different head attachments, to know which one to use depending on the treatment you want.
Massage Guns: At-Home Physical Therapy
Massage guns are one of the latest tools used by physical therapists, athletes, and ordinary people that wish to treat their muscles to better health from the comfort of their home. These nifty hand-held massagers are perfect for loosening-up tight muscles, treating sore muscles, and breaking down scar tissue.
Though visiting physical therapists is a great way to get professional guidance for muscle recovery, it’s not always convenient. A quick massage on the calves before a run or a relaxing massage after an intense workout can easily be done from home.
Massage guns are the perfect personal therapy tool to take exercise and relaxation to the next level. By having a massager and knowing how to use its different settings and attachment heads, you can be your own physical therapist!
Why Use Different Massage Heads?
Massage guns are an effective tool in performing at-home percussion therapy. In order to increase their benefits, it’s important to use the right attachment head. This way, you can adjust the intensity and pressure on a targeted area. Doing so can help alleviate and heal muscles faster.
It’s also very easy to start. By simply becoming familiar with the different attachment heads and what their intended use is, you can play with different techniques until you find the one that works best for you.
Different Types of Massage Heads and the Best Time to Use Them:
*IMPORTANT: Never use a massage gun on your head or neck. Even with lower intensity massage guns, these areas are very sensitive and require greater caution. If you wish to treat these areas it’s preferable you use your own fingers and thumbs in order to take proper care when massaging.
1. Round head (large and small)
Likely the most well-known and commonly used, the round head attachment is firm and targets a large surface area. This kind of head is ideal for bigger muscle groups. While the round shape does offer slightly more pressure at its center, it still provides enough flexibility so that a wider surface area benefits. If a muscle is too tender for a more targeted attachment head, like the bullet head attachment, then this provides a less intense option. Often these round heads will come in two sizes, large and small. Once an area has been massaged with the larger head, the smaller head can help target more-specific sore areas, knots, and other areas that require greater attention.
2. Round head (semi-sphere)
After the classic round head, which has a completely spherical shape, is the semi-sphere round head. This head offers similar benefits as the round head. It also targets a wide area which is best used with large muscle groups. However, its flat backside provides slightly more give and is therefore safer to use on thinner muscles.
3. Pneumatic (large, flat, and cushioned)
In contrast with the round sphere heads, both large and small, and the semi-spherical head, the pneumatic head offers the most give. These three are all in a similar category as they are the largest heads and, therefore, provide relief to larger surface areas. However, due to its design, the pneumatic head is the safest to use closer to bones or ligaments.
It provides adequate pressure to aid in treating muscles. Meanwhile, its pneumatic folds better-adapt to the shape of the area it’s treating. Thus, while the other two round heads hold their firm shape, the pneumatic has the most flexibility and can provide pressure to both flat and non-flat areas.
4. Bullet (small and pointed)
Unlike the round and pneumatic heads, the bullet head is designed for pin-point precision when treating muscles. This particular head can dig deeper into the muscle tissue. This can help target very specific areas where you may wish to go between top layer muscles for a deeper massage. As it is a more specialized tool, it likely won’t be the one you use most. When you do decide to go for a deep-tissue massage with this head, remember to use it for shorter periods of time. Targeting a muscle with this head for too long could lead to adverse effects. Make sure to give the area ample breaks between uses so as not to over-strain the muscle.
5. Flat (firm and flat)
Completely flat top attachment heads can come in both large and small. These help stimulate the muscle while always maintaining a wide surface area. Unlike the targeted bullet head or flexible round tops, this head aims to give a wider firm massage to muscle groups. Massages with this head will have a slightly greater intensity with each hit. Do not use this massage head near bones or ligaments as there is less flexibility and a stronger impact.
6. The Fork (spinal head)
This particular head is unique and is only recommended for targeting the muscles on either side of the spine simultaneously. Use this head with caution and assistance. Do not attempt to use this attachment head by yourself (if using it along the spine). It’s best to have someone help you to make sure the massage gun is always well-aligned with your spine.
The fork can be used by placing its ends at either side of the spine and slowly working your way down. Be sure never to place it directly on the spine itself and don’t go too far up where you might start hitting the neck area. A good rule of thumb is to stop before the ball of the neck and focus most of the massage time on the areas in the middle and lower back.
7. Flat Aluminum
Some massage guns offer a flat aluminum head attachment. This works almost exactly like the other flat top attachments. It provides a firmer percussion massage to the muscle group you wish to treat. The only difference is that because it’s aluminum you can alter its temperature. By placing the head in warm water or ice water you can control the temperature to help loosen stiff muscles or treat swollen muscles. This is a relatively new practice with massage guns and is therefore not an attachment head that is provided by all brands.
What to look out for:
Your comfort level - The classic “no pain, no gain” saying doesn’t apply here. When using a massage gun you shouldn’t feel pain or excessive discomfort. If you begin to feel pain it’s probably best to stop and let the muscle rest for a while. You could try using a larger head attachment to target a wider area. Alternatively, you could try using a warm towel to loosen up the muscles or use an ice pack to reduce swelling.
Time on each muscle - Though it might seem as though more time working a muscle would provide quicker results, this is rarely the case. It’s much better to practice a technique that uses several attachment heads for short periods of time (1-2 minutes) then let the muscle rest and continue in a few hours or the next day. It’s important to use the massage gun to help the body perform its natural healing process, not as a replacement.
Care for bones and tendons - The massage gun should only be massaging muscles. Be careful not to move too close to the edges and start hitting bones or tendons. Muscles have a natural bounciness to them that allows for them to absorb the percussion of the massage gun, bones and tendons do not.
Adapt to each muscle group - All muscles are different. Thicker muscle groups like the calves and quadriceps will require a higher intensity than muscles on the hand and feet. Make sure you’re adapting your settings and head attachments to the specific group you’re working on.
Build a routine - The best way to ensure you get optimum results from your personal therapy is to build it into your daily routine. Massaging the muscles and stretching before exercising can loosen them up to avoid injuries. Similarly, massaging the muscles in the evening can help stimulate the recovery process during sleep.
Be a responsible guinea pig - Every person is different. Treat your massage technique like an evolving process. Don’t assume something you watched or read online will work exactly the same way for you. Try a massage method and keep track of the head you used, the time you spent, and see how you feel the following day. By paying attention to these details you can develop a superior technique that suits your needs. Most importantly: don’t hurt yourself! If something feels uncomfortable or painful STOP and allow your muscles to rest before trying again. Often the muscle is too sore because the injury is fresh and it needs some time to repair from the inside.
Try Them Out! Now that you have a good idea of how each attachment head works, you can start to carefully experiment on your muscles to see what works best. Remember that bigger attachment heads are better for larger areas and smaller attachment heads help you target smaller, more-specific areas.
Never over-strain your muscles looking to heal them in one session. Give yourself time to recover and learn by listening to your body. The best times to use the massage gun and the best technique for your muscles depends on your needs. Be patient and soon you’ll be feeling more nimble and comfortable than ever!