Is Percussive Massage Therapy Safe?
Many potential first time users interested in percussive massage therapy and jigsaw massagers often ask whether the massage techniques are safe. This concern is a natural step for anyone doing their due diligence for something they plan to invest time and money into, especially if it impacts their health and muscle recovery.
Simply put, the answer to the question of whether percussive massage therapy is safe is “Yes, but...”
The following article will be your guide in understanding how we came to that answer, and the concerns you should be aware of before venturing into the world of percussive and jigsaw massage.
What is Percussive Massage Therapy?
Percussive massage is a technique with roots over a century old. In 1878, a Dutch massage practitioner named Johan Georg Mezger gave French terms to five basic massage techniques and coined the phrase “Swedish massage system”.
These massage techniques include the early form of percussive massage therapy called tapotement (derived from the French word "tapoter" which translates to “to tap” or “to drum”), as well as other techniques like effleurage (sliding or gliding down the length of the muscle), petrissage (kneading out “knots”), friction (cross fiber or alongside fibers), and vibration/shaking.
Percussive massage is a very popular type of massage today and is traditionally performed by the various angles and striking points of the hand in soft to medium blows. This could be anything from tapping with just the fingertips, hacking like a karate chop (light to medium, not like you’re trying to make Sensei proud!), slapping with fingers for a moderate impact, beating with a closed fit, or gently tapping the area with the hand formed into a cup.
The primary goal of percussive massage therapy is to stimulate the nervous system to release the buildup of lactic acid and lymphatic buildup, as well as engage and relax muscle groups. Regular percussive massage therapy can reduce joint stiffness, delayed onset muscle soreness, pain, as well as improve overall muscle function.
Up until this point, everything seems straightforward. In its 140 year+ history, there is very limited data to suggest that percussive massage therapy is harmful.
Enter the Jigsaw
Jigsaw massage is essentially percussive massage, but instead of a person administering the even, repetitive, soft-to-medium blows, it’s a machine.
There are several variations of the hardware, but the vast majority are either jigsaws with massage heads optimized for human impact or even unaltered car buffers.
Jigsaw massage has become an incredibly popular and cost-efficient means to go about regular percussive massage therapy, and the drastic change from man to a machine has many potential first time users feeling a mix of excitement, curiosity, and hesitation.
All three of these emotions are completely understandable. The jigsaw can perform the massage at a much more effective and efficient rate. However, it’s understandable that many people look at a piece of hardware otherwise used for construction and other industrial uses with a level of apprehension.
So, is Percussive Massage Therapy Safe? Are Jigsaw Massagers safe?
Anything from simple stretching to advanced physical therapy requires some level of understanding of human musculature and best practices. What “feels good” or “hurts in a good way” might seem like you’re headed in the right direction, and most of the time you are, but it could also lead to injury in the same way poor running, lifting, or poor form can hurt you.
There’s a reason massage therapists shell out a ton of money for schooling to become Licensed Massage Therapists. The human body is an incredible and wonderful complex system of interconnected nerves and muscles, and blindly firing at will with a jigsaw massager could cause some irritation and injury.
The Internet provides a plethora of educational materials and how-to videos that could help you gain a general understanding of how to use a jigsaw massager on yourself. The more you educate yourself, the lower your potential for risk becomes.
There are many nerves, blood vessels, and deeper underlying structures where direct pressure shouldn’t be applied. For example, you may have whacked your “funny bone” a few times in your life and experienced an unpleasant few moments afterward. Well, that “funny bone” isn’t really a bone, but actually the ulnar nerve. You probably won’t want to use a jigsaw massager on your funny bone, but many other underlying structures that are better left undisturbed aren’t so obvious. Other more obvious sites to avoid for any massage include the back of the knees and the kidney area below the ribs in the lower back.
While percussive massage and jigsaw massager are generally much lighter of an impact when compared to traditional deep tissue massages, you will want to heed similar risks. For example, deep tissue massage can cause bruising, blood clots if you already suffer from them, and rarely, nerve damage.
Again, percussive massage therapy utilizes much less pressure than deep tissue, but it’s worth understanding the general scope of massage impacts on the human body.
Thankfully there are plenty of great opportunities to learn, such as one of Jigsaw Massage’s educational series below.
Percussive massage therapy, along with most other types of massage, is used for injury rehabilitation and post-exercise recovery. The various massage types are different means to the broad end of helping the human body recovery and perform at its best.