Recovery has become as much a part of fitness routines as exercise and nutrition. After all, intense workouts and balanced meals will only get you so far if you're not showing your body some TLC and letting your muscles recover.
But not everyone can devote the time or finances to regular massages. A great alternative (or supplement) to traditional massage, vibrational massage therapy is another method you can incorporate into your regular recovery routine right at home.
If you're still debating whether to invest in your own vibrational massager, consider some of the benefits of this practical tool. Or, if you already have your own, read on to make sure you're using it properly for maximum results.
What Is Vibrational Massage?
As the name implies, vibrational massage or vibrational therapy involves applying vibration (usually with a hand-held massager) to an area of the body. Like most types of massage, the goal of vibration therapy is to improve blood circulation and reduce muscle pain or soreness, according to a January 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research.
Understanding why and how vibration massage works starts with the Gate Theory of Pain, says Brad Whitley, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in San Diego. Established in 1965, this theory suggests that your body feels pain depending on whether your "gates" of pain are open or closed.
Factors like stress or tension can open the gates of pain in the body, according to the Center for Integrated Health. On the other hand, relaxation or distraction can close the gates.
When your body feels vibration, it beats the pain signal to the brain, Whitley says. So instead of feeling soreness or pain, your brain perceives vibration instead, which serves as a distraction and closes the pain gate.
Benefits of Vibrational Massage
Since vibrational massage stimulates blood flow to the muscle, it helps promote recovery, Whitley says. "Any time that you increase blood flow, you're going to bring in new oxygen, new nutrients, new immuno-cell responses that will promote feeling fresh or feeling not as sore," he says. "Any time you can promote blood flow, you're promoting healing, you're promoting recovery."
Often, massage is associated with recovery but vibrational therapy can also be used during your workout to improve performance, according to a February 2017 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. After increasing blood flow to their calf muscles between sessions of high-intensity exercise, athletes were able to exert more power during their workout, researchers found.
Taking a hand-held vibrational massager to the gym is a great way to enhance your recovery and workout, Whitley says. Especially for athletes that train with free weights, Whitley recommends using a massager during rest intervals.
"It's easiest probably for athletes who tend to have a natural break within their workout," Whitley says. "People who are Olympic lifters or CrossFit athletes who have multiple parts to their workouts, as opposed to maybe endurance athletes who are going out and doing a long run or something like that. They can still use it, but they're not able to use it within the workout as much."
How to Use Vibrational Massage Tools
The best way to use vibrational massage depends on whether you're recovering at home or exercising at the gym, Whitley says. The amount of time you massage each muscle sends different signals to your body, triggering either your parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system.
If you use the massage before or during exercise, you'll want to target your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your body's "fight or flight" response, according to Tulane University. In that case, you don't want to massage your muscles for more than 30 to 45 seconds at a time, Whitley says.
On the other hand, if you're using your massager to recover, you want to send signals to your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body relax. In that case, you can focus in on one muscle for a minute or longer.
If you want to use your massager during your workout, use it for just 30 to 45 seconds per muscle. If recovery is the goal, you can massage a muscle up to a minute or longer.
When using your massager, try to avoid massaging the bones or joints, Whitley says. This isn't necessarily dangerous but may feel uncomfortable or painful. Also, if you have any bruising on your body or bruise easily, avoid the area and bring the tool down to a lighter frequency.
- International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance: "Relationship Between Blood Flow and Performance Recovery: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study"
- Tulane University: "Introduction to the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)"
- Center for Integrated Health: "The Gate Control Theory of Pain "
- Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: "To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)"