Should you use a massage gun for back pain?

Person using a massage gun to alleviate back pain
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Back pain affects many of us and it’s a health problem that appears to be getting worse, rather than better. Modern living, a sedentary lifestyle, bad posture or simply picking something up the wrong way are just a few of its many causes.

While that means chiropractors and osteopaths have never been busier, it has also opened up a massive new marketplace for massage guns. As you’ll see from our guide to the best massage guns, there are makes and models to suit any kind of budget.

In fact, research from the Mayo Clinic has found that 80 percent of the US population will have lower back pain in their lifetime, representing an annual cost to the American economy of between $100 and 200 billion. 

Similarly, according to Arthritis Research UK, a British charity that partnered with Imperial College London to develop the Musculoskeletal Calculator, 1 in 6 adults (or 16.9 percent) in England endure some form of back pain. So it’s easy to see the scale of the issue on either side of the pond.

A massage gun can help deliver relief for many different types of muscle pain, including the dreaded aches and pains that come with back issues.

Back pain and massage: Why it works

Gentle, targeted massage using a percussive massager can often help you tackle back pain. It might not eradicate the problem altogether, which is why it's always a good idea to seek professional help if you have an ongoing issue with your back, but it can provide some soothing relief.

“A massage gun can definitely help ease back discomfort,” says Vernon Smeed, Head of Product Education at Pulseroll, which produces a range of massage gun products. “But if you have chronic pain, you should always seek medical advice from a professional clinician before using one and check the manual for any contraindications.”

A percussive massager can gently pummel problem areas and, with the correct head attached to the device, help to loosen tight muscles. Of course, because there are so many variations on the back pain theme, with different areas of the back being affected, choosing how best to tackle your own soreness is a very personal thing.

 Likely causes of back pain 

There are all sorts of reasons why people suffer from back pain and it can frequently be something seemingly trivial that sets it off. For example, picking up a bag of shopping, bending down to clean the floor or washing the car can all induce a twinge or two. 

While some back pain comes from simply getting older, being overweight and our diet can exacerbate it too. As can the wrong sleep setup – an unsupportive mattress can cause back pain as well as exacerbating existing issues (our guide to the best mattresses for back pain has more information). 

However, there can be more serious reasons for back pain, including the onset of spine arthritis, a bulging disc, or sacroiliac joint pain. No matter what your age, it's also possible to develop muscle and ligament strains. On top of that, many of us have skeletal irregularities that might cause back pain problems over time. It’s complicated.

Person using a massage gun to alleviate back pain

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How does simple massage work for back pain?

According to Vernon, and depending on the type of back pain, massage therapy is a common treatment for muscle tension, spasms, inflammation, aches, stiffness, and discomfort. Other advantages include better blood and lymph circulation, general flexibility, and range of motion.

“Massage guns use percussion therapy, “ he elaborates. “Which concentrates targeted pulses of oscillation pressure into the body's muscle and tissue to help relieve muscle pain, stiffness, and soreness. The continuous pulses aid muscle relaxation and healing. It accelerates tissue growth and repair by increasing blood flow to the targeted area, which can also help to increase a person's range of motion, by providing comprehensive relief by reaching both the superficial and deep layer muscle fibers.”

Treatment options

A massage gun might be able to help you with your back pain ailments but it will be unlikely to get rid of the problem altogether. Think of it as a supplement, rather than a replacement for treatment, such as physical therapy. Frequently, more rest and a change to the way you do things can help too.

“Common causes include slouching at your desk,” notes Vernon, highlighting a perfect and very common example of poor posture or ergonomics. “Muscle strain is commonly induced by jarring motions, such as turning quickly or incorrectly lifting a large object, or sports-related injuries.

"Back pain is a problem that affects both men and women of all ages. The Pulseroll range can benefit a much wider audience, regardless of age or profession, resulting in significant benefits for users suffering from any stiffness, soreness, or the need for muscle relaxation, as well as athletes recovering from delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).”

Getting the right sort of exercise is always a positive step to helping preserve your back health too, especially anything that can help to strengthen your core. By doing this, you’ll be able to improve your posture and you might feel the benefits that the resulting weight loss or muscle gain will deliver to your spine too.

Power Plate Mini+ massage gun

The Power Plate Mini, one of our top massage gun choices (Image credit: Future)

How to pick (and use) a massage gun

If you think a massage gun could potentially help you with a back pain problem, you'll want to pick through the various models in our best massage guns guide, which offers up valuable insight into the different types you can get. 

Like so many health and fitness kit options out there, you’ve got options that range from budget through to premium, and all points in-between. Generally speaking, the more you spend, the more likely you are to get extra features and functions, including a wider range of massage heads for the gun itself.

“The pneumatic head is the ideal applicator head for usage on the back,” reckons Vernon. “It's great for sensitive soft tissue areas all over the body, but it's especially good for the back because there isn't much muscular tissue there.”

Vernon also offers up some top tips for getting the best from your massage gun: “Work on the glutes and hamstrings for up to four minutes first, which are big dominating muscle areas,” he comments. 

“Lower back pain can occur when your glutes and piriformis muscles are tight and strained. Tight hamstrings can also limit pelvic mobility, which can result in a compensatory increase in low back rounding. During forward bending, this increases the stresses on the lumbar spine, which might also result in low back injury.”

Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.