As a dancer aches, pains, and injuries in your muscles and joints are just considered part of life.
The lifestyle of a dancer means practicing routines over, and over, and over again until you are seeing the counts in your sleep. We demand our bodies stretch longer, jump higher, spin faster… oh, and make it look effortless for the audience please. These demands are often combined with late night rehearsals, early morning workouts, and speeding to the other side of town to make it in time for that performance. We rarely give our bodies the time needed to properly rest, recover, and heal from all the strain and stress we put it through every single day; and let’s not even talk about how we just hurriedly stuff our face with a bag of Cheez-Its in the car and call that dinner. Is it really any wonder why our bodies are regularly in pain and occasionally fail us in an injury?
In this article I’m going to talk about a product that has been growing in popularity in the fitness industry the past couple years and how it can benefit dancers by reducing the aches, pains, in injuries for dancers. Best of all, it easily fits into our busy schedule.
The Percussion Massager (aka massage gun)
Chances are you have seen an advertisement for one of these, or maybe even seen a kiosk at the mall selling them on your way to buy some new leggings. You may have wondered if these massagers actually work or if they are just the latest over-hyped fitness product that doesn’t deliver on the promise. The short answer to this question is, yes, these massagers deliver on their promise and make a world of difference for busy athletes like dancers. See the bottom of this article for research studies.
Vibration and percussion massage therapy is nothing new. These techniques have been around for years. We didn’t hear about this too much because the massagers were expensive and completely out of reach for the average person. Most often it was limited for use at a doctor’s office like a chiropractor or physical therapist. However, low a behold some engineer figured out how to build these devices in a way that the average consumer can afford it and made them fairly easy to understand how to use.
Massage Gun vs Traditional Massage
When comparing a massage gun to a classic massage by a massage therapist the most tangible benefits are convenience, time, and cost. I’ve never met a dancer who has the time (or money) to visit a massage therapist on a daily, or even weekly basis. Every one of us knows it would be a huge benefit to our bodies and performance, but carving out enough time in our schedule is nearly impossible. Instead of seeing a massage as a priority for muscle recovery, injury prevention, and overall health we view a massage more like a luxury item we treat ourselves to once every few months when we are feeling fancy. However, carrying a portable massager and taking just 3 minutes to warm up our legs before jumping on the dance floor and knocking out 75 plies and then 5 five minutes for a cool down massage to get the necessary oxygen to our muscles to recover before speeding off to the next gig is something we can fit into our schedule and will work absolute wonders at preventing fatigue, aches, and injuries.
Consistency is the next major comparison to traditional massages to talk about. Many of us performers are barely able to sit down for a full meal. Having time in our schedule for preventative care is almost a joke, so we don’t visit a therapist, chiropractor, or doctor until something is already hurting and causing our body harm. Having a portable massager conveniently in your dance bag allows us to be consistent with preventative care and stop the pains and injuries before they even happen. Additionally, it keeps our bodies feeling amazing and allows us to put on our best performance on a regular basis.
Technique and skill are where professional massage therapists and trained experts are truly going to outshine any massage gun or self-service device. Despite what some social media trolls may think, watching a few YouTube videos on is not going to replace years of experience and training on how to treat and prevent muscle injuries. Most massage guns on the market are designed to be used by yourself, or with a friend. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a trained professional in your studio it is unlikely they are going to match the talent level of someone who spent months memorizing the name of every ligament and muscle from hip to your toes. Percussion massage guns are not meant as a replacement for trained professionals. Instead, they are designed as a supplement we can use on a consistent basis since few of us have regular access to a professional.
Primary Benefits of Percussion Massage
These next few paragraphs talk a about the specific ways a percussion massage benefits us as dancers. We are not going to dig into the details of how a massage gun works, but rather focus on the ways the massage it gives helps our body.
Relieving and Preventing Aches and Pains
If you have been dancing for more than just a few days, you are way too familiar with the common aches and pains we get from pushing our body to the limit on a consistent basis. The arches of your feet, your calf muscles, hamstrings, lower back… muscles I’m not even sure have a name hurt.
Reducing and eliminating these daily aches and pains in our muscles and joints are where percussion massagers truly shine. The first time you use a massage gun you get the “it hurts so good feeling” and you start finding all the trigger points and sweet spots where the feeling shoots all the way from soles of your feet up to your neck. Then, after a few days to a week of consistent use it dawns on you; the pains in your feet are completely gone, and that soreness in your lower back barely noticeable anymore.
The vibrations from the massage gun increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles, carry away lactic acid, and loosen up tight areas. This gives your muscles the opportunity to properly recover and heal from the stress and strain put on them from dancing and nearly eliminate the common aches and pains caused by dancing.
How does a percussion massager reduce aches and pains?
- Increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles
- Carries away lactic acid
- Loosens tight areas preventing good circulation
Injuries are a sad part of dancing and nearly every one of us has had at least one or two we will remember for a long time. Several of the most common injuries experienced while dancing are a result of tight muscles, not properly warming up before performing, and fatigue. Cramps, strains, sprains, torn muscles & pulled muscles are all often an outcome of not taking preventative measures and preparing your muscles for stressful activity, or not allowing your body to fully recover before going back out on the floor.
The convenience of a portable massager allows you to warm up before dancing and recover after with just a few minutes of massaging. The ability to do this on a consistent basis reduces the chance of an injury, allowing us stay on the dance floor doing what we love instead of icing our ankle on the couch while scrolling our Instagram feed.
How does a percussion massager decrease the risk of injury?
- Stimulates circulation & oxygen to muscles
- Reduces lactic acid buildup
- Loosens tight areas and knots restricting range of motion
Disclaimer: There is no way to prevent all injuries from dancing. Even using a massage gun every day there is still an inherent risk of injury while dancing.
Quicker Recovery Time
Recovery time is not just about being able to quickly recover between sets during a performance, but it also means recovering from one day to the next and the gradual fatigue of your muscles over time from overuse and repetitive motion.
A percussion massage from a massage gun helps your muscles recover quickly by loosening up tight areas and stimulating good circulation. This not only keeps you performing your best on those nights when you have several routines in one show, but also improves your ability to stay in peak condition while practicing for weeks or months on end. Additionally, giving your muscles the stimulation and massaging needed to quickly recover greatly reduces our chances of missing practices and performances due to an injury.
How does a percussion massager reduce recovery time?
- Stimulates circulation and oxygen to muscles
- Loosens tight areas in muscles
- Reduces lactic acid build up
Improve Flexibility and Range of Motion
I thought I had good flexibility and range of motion. Then, I browsed through TikTok and saw dancers kick up into a perfect, straight-leg scorpion that would send me crying all the way to the hospital and I realized there is still room for improvement. As dancers we are continually searching the internet for tips to kick our leg higher, make our pointes longer, and hit that picture perfect leap where our toes seem to touch the walls.
Range of motion and flexibility is reduced when our muscles are tight and have inflammation from overuse and regularly pushed through strenuous activity without proper warm up and recovery. We often are limited on time and cannot properly warm up our muscles and are running off to our next rehearsal without allowing our muscles to properly recover.
Flexibility is another area where percussion massagers offer benefit. The convenience of being able to carry a massage gun with you and give your muscles a proper warm and cool down in a matter of minutes is something dancers have needed for a long time. Massage guns can quickly remove knots, tight areas, and prevent inflammation. All of these things improves our range of motion and ability to remain flexible.
How does a percussion massager improve flexibility and range of motion?
- Reduced inflammation around joints
- Keeps muscles loose and removes tightness
- Reduces soreness in muscles
General Cautions When Using Massage Guns
Knowing the benefits of using a massage gun is great, but it is just as important to note how and when not to use a massage gun.
- Don’t pretend you’re a doctor! If you have an existing injury, or are feeling an abnormal amount of pain consult your doctor before using any massage gun.
- Don't over-massage your muscles. Using the massage gun in one area for a long time can cause pain and do more harm than good. Often, a few short 3-5 minute sessions with the massager will yield better results than one long session.
- Good hurt vs bad hurt. Often, we feel a "good pain" when massaging out a tight area. However, if you feel and excessive pain, or a pain that makes you pull away from the massager you should lighten the pressure and/or avoid massaging areas causing excessive pain.
- Do not massage on or near your throat. The throat area of your neck is sensitive and using a massage gun on the front of your neck can be very dangerous.
Backed by Science!
Vibration therapy and DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness):
Vibration stimulation and muscle damage:
Common sports injuries:
Benefits of warm ups:
Percussion massage and Range of Motion: