Scroll social media platforms like TikTok and you’ll undoubtedly come across a slew of health tips and warnings. But it can admittedly be difficult to know which ones to believe.
The latest claim is that you should never use a massage gun on your neck, with warnings about constricted blood flow and stroke symptoms. It may sound like social media theatrics upon first glance, but there is some truth involved—with important nuances.
So, is using a massage gun on your neck actually dangerous? Here’s what experts say about it, plus how to soothe your muscles safely.
Is it safe to use a massage gun on your neck?
Can you use a massage gun on your neck? In short, it depends on where exactly on your neck we’re talking about.
“To minimize the risk of injury when using a massage gun on the neck, avoid the front and sides due to vital structures like veins and arteries,” says Gendai Echezona, MD, a triple board-certified anesthesiologist and pain management specialist at Premier Pain Care in Norwalk, Connecticut. “Reports indicate potential issues like headaches, dizziness, or stroke-like symptoms.”
For instance, an April 2023 case report in the World Journal of Clinical Cases highlighted a 49-year-old woman who developed blood clots in her carotid arteries (those on each side of the neck) after using a neck massager—and encountered stroke-like symptoms like leg weakness and difficulty speaking as a result. The symptoms improved after a week of medication.
Meanwhile, a May 2022 case report in the journal Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine detailed a 27-year-old woman who experienced headache, neck pain, and dizziness after repetitive use of a handheld massage gun. The patient was even found to have vertebral artery dissection, a tear in the neck’s blood vessel lining and a known cause of stroke in patients under 45. However, after a stay at the hospital, she was discharged without the need for surgery.
“Handheld massage guns have risen in popularity and become more accessible to the everyday user,” note the authors in the Clinical Practice and Cases in Emergency Medicine case report. “Unfortunately, despite the increase of popularity, proper use is not clearly demonstrated.”
The report notes website image searches for these devices, in which many ads show models improperly using the device on sensitive areas in the neck.
However, when used correctly, massage guns can be a helpful part of your wellness routine.
“While there is a concern circulating on social media about potential risks, it’s essential to note that when used correctly, massage guns can be safe and effective for addressing muscle tension,” says Carol B. Espel, CPT, director of fitness at Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida.
The lowdown on how to use a massage gun safely
When you use a massage gun, never aim it at the front of your neck.
“Focus on the muscles toward the back half, avoiding direct contact with the spine, throat, and front half of the neck,” says Anjali Agrawal, DC, a chiropractor and functional medicine practitioner at Back in Balance Health in Los Altos, California. “The front part of the neck should not be massaged, ever. This region contains delicate structures and vital blood vessels, and applying percussive pressure can be dangerous.”
You should also avoid direct contact over your spine vertebrae. Start with a gentle setting, making sure you’re using the correct attachment.
“Some massage guns come with attachments specifically designed for use on the neck, which are usually softer and gentler compared to attachments meant for larger muscle groups,” Agrawal says.
Limit your massage session, too, particularly if you’re new to the practice. A short session of 2 to 10 minutes is typically enough. Use gentle, circular, or sweeping movements with light pressure.
When used properly, experts agree massage guns can indeed be a helpful tool for neck muscle strain, including delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that occurs after a long period of neck muscle use.
“This can occur after exercise, prolonged computer use, or even surfing on a smartphone,” says James Murphy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at OSF HealthCare in Urbana, Illinois. “The muscles around the scapula or wing bone are intimately related to neck movement—like the trapezius and the levator scapulae. These respond well to percussive therapy.”
The trapezius muscle is found in the upper back and the back of the neck area, while the levator scapulae muscle runs from the top of the shoulder to the neck.
In general, massage guns are designed to be used on large muscular areas. If you have any questions about which muscles to target with your massage gun, ask your health care provider.
“While there is a concern circulating on social media about potential risks, it’s essential to note that when used correctly, massage guns can be safe and effective for addressing muscle tension.” —Carol B. Espel, CPT
Are there other areas of your body to avoid using a massage gun?
A massage gun can be a helpful tool, but it’s not right for every part of your body.
“There are several areas of the body where caution should be exercised when using a massage gun,” Agrawal says. “These areas tend to be more sensitive or have underlying structures that could be easily affected by the percussive force of the massage gun.”
In addition to the front of your neck and throat, skip the massage gun on:
- Bony areas like your spine, ribs, elbows, knees, and shins
- Joints like your wrists, ankles, and shoulders
- Head and face (delicate structures like your eyes, ears, and sinuses can be injured by a massage gun)
- Areas over your heart, abdominal, or pelvic organs (your abdomen and lower back should also be avoided when pregnant, and especially in later stages of pregnancy)
- Open wounds or infections
- Genital areas
If you’re not sure whether it’s safe to use a massage gun in a particular area, take caution and avoid that area or chat with your health care provider for guidance.
How to remedy sore neck muscles without a massage gun
Our experts agree that a great deal of easing sore neck muscles comes from adjusting your lifestyle habits throughout the day. Stretch to maintain flexibility and alleviate tension, keep moving with activities like yoga or Pilates, maintain proper posture, and stay hydrated to prevent tight muscles.
If you still have sore muscles, you can try heat therapy in lieu of a massage gun.
“Applying heat to the sore muscles can help increase blood flow and relax tense muscles,” Agrawal says. “You can use a heating pad or warm towel 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, or take a warm bath or shower to alleviate discomfort.”
However, if your pain or discomfort continues, see your health care provider for personalized advice.
“A thorough assessment of neck pain is important for tailoring a customized treatment plan,” Dr. Echezona says. “Muscle soreness might be just one aspect of pain or a symptom of a more serious cause.”
Your primary doctor may refer you to a licensed physical therapist, massage therapist, or chiropractor to address your muscular pain safely.
—medically reviewed by Jennifer Gilbert, MD, MPH
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
- Pan J, Wang JW, Cai XF, Lu KF, Wang ZZ, Guo SY. Intracranial large artery embolism due to carotid thrombosis caused by a neck massager: A case report. World J Clin Cases. 2023 Apr 16;11(11):2489-2495. doi: 10.12998/wjcc.v11.i11.2489. PMID: 37123320; PMCID: PMC10130990.
- Sulkowski K, Grant G, Brodie T. Case Report: Vertebral Artery Dissection After Use of Handheld Massage Gun. Clin Pract Cases Emerg Med. 2022 May;6(2):159-161. doi: 10.5811/cpcem.2022.2.56046. PMID: 35701359; PMCID: PMC9197740.