Massage therapists cannot be replaced by tools or machines. True professional massage requires a human being to administer the appointment. People namely trained therapists, are able to observe the tissue they are massaging to ensure no harm is done.
A 2021 study in the Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Journal from Oxford Academic reported a case of rhabdomyolysis after massage gun use. According to the CDC, rhabdomyolysis "is a serious medical condition that can be fatal or result in permanent disability. Rhabdomyolysis occurs when damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins and electrolytes into the blood. These substances can damage the heart and kidneys and cause permanent disability or even death."
In the case study, a young woman with pain in her thighs received muscle gun treatment from her coach to relieve her pain. This resulted in muscle bruising and a severe case of rhabdomyolysis.
Massage guns have been trendy with increased use. Sharper image has sold thumper devices for years, and within the past decade, the number of massage gun manufacturers and sales have increased. Most notably Mark Whalburg was recently reported to gift a massage gun to one of his movie costars who thought the massage gun was for something other than therapeutic purpose.
Massage guns are fairly easy to apply, except when they are used by untrained professionals. That's because, when a massage gun is used over a contraindicated site, such as the carotid artery or a ruptured vertebral disc, it could likely do more harm than good.
Sports event use has seen perhaps one of the largest massage gun use increases, given it's fast application. Although again, when used by an individual who does not have proper training, a massage gun could be applied incorrectly to soft tissues which could result in medical harm.
The following image is an example of what a massage gun looks like; however, this is not the massage gun nor is it the massage gun brand that contributed to the rhabdomyolysis injury. Below is only an image to provide readers an example of what a massage gun looks like, and there are many different examples beyond this one image:
In the end, massage guns will never replace massage therapists given the real harm that could result with massage gun use. Furthermore, repeated machine compression to a soft tissue could be extremely harmful and result in cases such as rhabdomyolysis.
For now, we continue to recommend massage therapists simply use their hands for massage, and when properly trained, use hot stones and cups for manual soft tissue manipulation. Stones and cups still have to be applied by a trained practitioner who knows where and where not to apply such equipment.
So fear not massage therapists, massage guns will never replace us, unless we're at the time where causing possible and real life threatening harm by using a machine is desirable to replacing a real human being.
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