Do Massage Guns Cause Vertigo?

Do Massage Guns Cause Vertigo?

Handheld massage guns can be helpful for working out sore muscles. But a new scientific report found that they may also raise a person’s risk of developing vertigo.

The report, published in May in JAMA Otolaryngology, details two cases of patients who developed extreme dizziness after using massage guns on their upper necks and lower scalps. Specifically, both developed a common form of vertigo called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which causes room-spinning dizziness.

The first case involved a 31-year-old woman who developed vertigo 12 hours after using a massage gun on her neck and shoulders. The other patient was 48 years old and had regular episodes of vertigo that doctors suspected was due to massage gun use. Both women’s vertigo symptoms improved after they stopped using the handheld massage guns.

Previous research has linked BPPV to vibration from intense exercise, electric toothbrushes, and certain dental procedures, the report stated, but little is known about the specific link between massage guns and vertigo.

The connection is one that people who use massage guns should be more aware of, said report author Ronen Nazarian, MD, director of otology at the Center for Advanced Ear Surgery and attending physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“This is definitely something people should worry about,” he told Health.

Here’s what experts had to say about why massage guns might lead to BPPV and how to lower the odds that it might happen to you.

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Vertigo is often described as a feeling of dizziness, like you’re in motion when you’re not actually moving. This is different from feeling lightheaded.

Vertigo “is often described by patients as a spinning sensation, with the room or objects around them moving about,” Ilan Danan, MD, sports neurologist at the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, told Health.

There are a lot of different types of vertigo, but BPPV is the most common—both patients in Nazarian’s report developed this type of vertigo.

“BPPV is caused by a temporary malfunctioning of the inner ear canals, resulting in severe dizziness and rapid involuntary movements of the eyes, known as a nystagmus,” said Danan.

When you have BPPV, crystals in your inner ear made of calcium carbonate get dislodged, Courtney Voelker, MD, PhD, neurologist and director of the adult and pediatric cochlear implant program at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, told Health. These dislodged pieces of calcium (also called otoliths) then float around in the inner ear, which confuses the brain about the body’s position in space.

More research is needed, but it’s possible that massage gun use around the head and shoulders play a role in dislodging these otoliths, causing someone to develop BPPV.

However, there are other causes of BPPV. People can develop the condition by hitting their head, putting their head upside down, having an infection, or having another condition such as multiple sclerosis, said Nazarian. Some people simply spontaneously develop it.

“A lot of times, it’s just bad luck,” he explained.

Certainly not all people who use massage guns go on to develop vertigo; however, Nazarian is concerned about how frequently he’s seeing this issue crop up among patients.

BPPV is generally more common in older adults, but Nazarian has “noticed an uptick of patients with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo who were on the younger side.”

“We noticed that one of the common denominators was that they were using a massage gun a short time before these symptoms began,” he said.

Most of these patients Nazarian sees also don’t realize that they shouldn’t be using a massage gun on their head and neck, he added.

“There should be better warnings on these products to caution about using these on the upper neck and back of the head,” he said. “Patients should be more aware.”

In addition to vertigo, using a massage gun on your neck could also lead to other serious complications, Nazarian added. A report published in 2022 outlined a case of a 27-year-old woman who developed vertebral artery dissection, a potential cause of stroke, after using a massage gun on her neck for at least three weeks.

If someone is experiencing vertigo—whether it appears to be caused by a massage gun or something else—that’s a sign that something serious is going on with your health, said Voelker.

“Any time a person is having spinning vertigo, it needs to be investigated,” she said.

While vertigo can be caused by inner ear issues, it can also be a sign of heart, brain, or neurologic issues, she added.

A handheld massage gun can deliver a lot of force to a targeted area, so it’s best to be cautious about where you use it. Again, the vibration may be able to dislodge inner ear crystals, raising your risk of vertigo, Nazarian said.

“I don’t think a massage gun should be used on the head or upper neck at all,” he said. “There is a greater risk of harm than benefit.”

In addition to skipping your neck and head, it’s also safest to avoid using massage guns on sensitive areas on the body such as the eyes, groin, directly over the heart, or behind the knees.

If you do happen to get vertigo after using a massage gun, Nazarian said it’s best to seek out an ear, nose, and throat specialist quickly.

“Even though the vertigo can be very disruptive to someone’s life, this can be easily treated by a professional,” he said.

Doctors use something called the Epley maneuver to help get those inner ear crystals back into place, he said.

“In the vast majority of people, it only takes one maneuver,” Voelker said. “It’s very, very rare that a person would need surgery.”

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