Many people know it – pain in the neck and back. It is not uncommon for these to be so-called trigger points. These are hardened muscles that often lead to tension and stiffness in connection with pain. Massages are a popular way to treat trigger points. In this article, you will learn if and how you can treat trigger points with a massage gun.
Massaging a trigger point with a massage gun works as follows: use an attachment with a small contact surface (e.g. a bullet attachment). Apply the massage gun to the trigger point at a medium to high power level and let it massage the trigger point for about 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat two to three times a day until the pain is reduced.
You have now briefly learned how to treat trigger points with a massage gun. Now I would like to go into more detail about the background to the treatment of trigger points. I will explain what trigger points are, what causes them and what symptoms trigger points bring with them. I will also explain which massage gun is best suited for treating trigger points and when you should not use the massage gun.
What is a Trigger Point?
Trigger points can occur in various areas of the body, such as the ligaments, tendons, periosteum, or skeletal muscles. Most frequently, trigger points occur in the muscles. 1 These are the so-called myofascial trigger points. I will refer to these in my explanations.
A myofascial trigger point is hardening in the skeletal muscles. The seat of this hardening, in turn, is in a bundle of muscle fibers. Skilled therapists can palpate the hardening as a kind of knot. By applying pressure to a trigger point, (severe) pain is produced.
Trigger points are divided into the following types2:
- Active Trigger Points – trigger points that hurt, are tender and weaken the affected muscle.
- Latent Trigger Points – trigger points that hurt only when pressure is applied
- Satellite Trigger Points – trigger points that are caused by trigger points in surrounding muscles
Trigger points can basically occur anywhere on the body. The following graphic shows you places where you can often expect trigger points:
Where the trigger points occur in a specific case varies from person to person. Occupational groups who frequently sit in front of a PC, for example, usually complain about trigger points in the area of the neck as well as the shoulder girdle.
What causes Trigger Points?
Trigger points are often caused by overuse3 (e.g., overexertion during sports), incorrect use (e.g., lack of exercise in everyday life) or traumatic overstretching of muscles. These, in turn, lead to permanent shortening of the sarcomeres in the muscle. These no longer detach on their own. The result is noticeable hardening. As a result, the muscle is less well supplied with blood and insufficiently supplied with oxygen.
What are the Symptoms of Trigger Points?
Probably most often, trigger points are noticed because of the pain they cause. In addition, there are other symptoms that can vary greatly. Overall, trigger points can be accompanied by the following symptoms:
- limited mobility
- muscle weakness
- pain under pressure
- chronic pain
- uncontrolled movements
How are Trigger Points treated?
The treatment of trigger points is based on various methods. These are often combined with each other to release the trigger points.
One treatment method is trigger point massage. Here, the trigger point is massaged by the physiotherapist. This involves applying pressure to the trigger point with his or her fingers to extend the length of the sarcomere and loosen the muscle.
Another treatment approach is the spray & stretch method. For this, the physical therapist applies a cold spray to the muscle and then stretches it. This method is not only very effective but also virtually painless.
Last but not least, dry needling is used for treatment. In this method, an acupuncture needle is inserted several times into the trigger point and moved up and down again and again. This loosens the muscle fibers from each other and loosens the trigger point.
To treat the pain, but not the causes, various painkillers are also prescribed by the doctor for very acute trigger points.
How do I treat Trigger Points myself with a Massage Gun?
To massage a trigger point with a massage gun, you must first select the correct attachment. This should have as small a contact surface as possible so that the trigger point can be massaged specifically. As a rule, the so-called bullet attachment is recommended.
After you have attached the correct attachment to the massage gun, you need to locate the trigger point. This often feels like a knot or hardening.
Set a medium to a high level (as comfortable for you) and apply the massage gun to the trigger point with some pressure. Hold the gun in this position for about 30 to 60 seconds. Do the massage two to three times a day if needed until the pain decreases.
I can only recommend here to use a lower number of strokes to reduce the risk of injury.
What to look for when choosing the right Massage Gun?
If you want to buy a massage gun for treating trigger points, you should pay particular attention to the following three things:
- motor power
- supplied/compatible attachments
- amplitude (stroke length)
The power of the motor is very important when massaging trigger points. After all, something has to be pressed on here with the massage gun. Cheaper devices with weak motors tend to jam when pressure is applied. I, therefore, recommend models with at least 50 watts of power. Alternatively, you can read through the reviews on this page. I have examined all devices exactly on this aspect.
You should also pay attention to the supplied or compatible attachments. When massaging trigger points, an attachment with a small contact surface is needed (e.g., a cartridge attachment). If possible, this should be supplied with the massage gun or can be purchased additionally.
The amplitude (stroke length) should also be considered. Trigger points may be located deep in the muscles. To reach them, the impact depth should be at least 10 mm, but preferably more than 12 mm.
My massage gun test has shown that, in addition to numerous bad models on the market, there are many massage guns that meet these characteristics. From my own test, I can recommend the Hyperice Hypervolt, for example. This has a good impact depth as well as a powerful motor and is supplied with the appropriate attachment. It is very handy and makes comparatively quiet noises during use.
Besides the Hypervolt, I can recommend the guns listed below. They all performed very well in my test and meet the requirements mentioned for the treatment of trigger points.
When should I not treat Trigger Points with a Massage Gun?
As already mentioned, you should always consult with a doctor or physiotherapist before using a massage gun. In addition, there are contraindications for which a massage gun may not be used, as this can lead to complications. I have provided an overview of these here:
- The trigger point is located on the head or in the neck area
- Illness (fever, cold, etc.)
- Skin rashes/diseases
- Varicose veins
- Placental diseases
- Autoimmune diseases
- Acute diseases and herniated discs
- Arterial occlusive diseases
- Open wounds or fractures
In addition, the use of a massage gun is not recommended during pregnancy. But here it is necessary to decide on a case-by-case basis after consulting a doctor. Read more here: Can you use a Massage Gun while pregnant?
How can I prevent Trigger Points?
The best way to prevent trigger points is to reduce the causes. If your trigger point is caused by a lack of exercise, you can prevent it by doing more sports and integrating exercise into your life.
If, on the other hand, the strain is one-sided, you should reduce it if possible. It can also help to strengthen and stretch the affected muscles. An adapted and, above all, balanced diet can also help.
Conclusion – How can I loosen Trigger Points with a Massage Gun?
Trigger points are a common cause of muscle pain. I explained in the article which habits promote them and what you can do about them. I also showed you how to best prevent trigger points. In addition, I explained how you can use a massage gun on trigger points and which massage guns are best suited for this purpose. I hope that I could help you with that!