OPM vs. RPM: Fundamental Distinctions

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Today we will discuss the difference between an oscillatory percussion massager and a reciprocating percussion massager. I hope after reading this article, you will be able to know which one you should use for which purpose.

The fundamental differences between the reciprocating percussion massager (RPM...a.k.a. jigsaw) and the oscillatory percussion massager (OPM...a.k.a. buffer) comes down to the action/application delivered by these two most popular types of hand held electric massagers. Let's break it down to action and contact application.

Let's Talk RMP First!

RPM HIGHLIGHTS ~ Reciprocating Percussion Massager


  • Action~ The RPM is a reciprocal, or up and down/back and forth movement. 
  • Angles~ An angle can be achieved by tilting the machine.
  • Speeds~ Some machines provide variable speeds.
  • CPM~ Compressions Per Minute: variable, 1700 - 2400 cpm
  • Movement~ Movement along the bodily tissue is a bit counterintuitive with this pointed repetitive force. 


  • Flow~ This is intuitively applied into one targeted area and is therefor generally point-specific, or static massage.
  • Applicators~ Some models can be fitted with a variety of applicators (this will be discussed in a blog within this series later.) 
  • Effect~ Any applicator-bit attached to an RPM will deliver a very similar effect due to the limited vector of reciprocal action.


  • Analgesic Effect ~ Percussion massagers generally create an analgesic effect. The CPM (compressions per minute) frequency are high enough to encourage nerves to close to painful input, preventing pain from traveling through the nervous system. The RPM delivers the analgesic effect when handled carefully and within the targeted tissue range.
  • The RPM delivers consistent point-specific compressions to the target tissue. Because of the nature of this action, a little goes a long way.
  • In skilled hands, small areas of tight tissue can receive direct massage compressions in a very short amount of time.
  • Due to its tight-vectored contact it is very easy for the operator to RPM into boney or nervy areas. A lot of focus is required, and only for very short bursts of time as compared to the OPM. 


SCORE ~ 3/5

  • The RPM is the most popular commercial percussion massager today. It is having its moment! These are the toddler years of a major household health tool revolution, and the RPM is currently at the forefront. RPMs will only improve (and quickly!) and it won't take many steps of re-invention to be the best thing ever.
  • 3/5 means it should be in your toolbox. Especially if you want something that works fast for one tight muscle at a time.

OPM HIGHLIGHTS ~ Oscillatory Percussion Massager

    • ACTION ~ OPM

      • Action~ The OPM provides an oscillatory vibrating movement.
      • Angles~ Many angle can be achieved by tilting the machine.
      • Speeds~ Some machines provide variable speeds.
      • CPM ~ Compressions Per Minute: variable, 1700 - 3300
      • Movement~ has flow. Movement along the bodily tissue is intuitive with the oscillatory action.


      • Flow~ All spectrum of massage application can be achieved with an OPM due to the applicator (6"x1" foam disk) and the ability to quickly move from broad contact to point-specific contact with a tilt of the machine.
      • Applicators~ The 6"x1" circular disk has stratum of foam consistensies.
      • Effect~ A full spectrum of applications exists, lending to the broad lexicon of applications referred to in the Percussion Fitness Techniques.



    • Analgesic Effect ~ Percussion massagers generally create an analgesic effect. The CPM (compressions per minute) frequency are high enough to encourage nerves to close to painful input, preventing pain from traveling through the nervous system.
    • The OPM delivers a massage that is therapeutically effective while feeling good.
    • The OPM delivers both broad vibrational contact and point-specific percussive contact to the target tissue. Because of the nature of this action, the machine is intuitive in the hands of the user, lending to a well balanced variety of applications within a single session.
    • Due to its broad foam applicator, the OPM is generally safer to use over a boney or nervy area.

    SCORE ~ 5 / 5

    • The OPM is the slightly lesser popular commercial percussion massager today. It has yet to have its moment! These are the toddler years of a major household health tool revolution, and the OPM is currently in second place behind the RPM. The only reasoning for this is the lack of OPM education and the current marketing trend pushing RPMs.
    • 5/5 means it is a very effective, versatile MUST-HAVE! Especially when you want your massage to feel good, target tissue and produce many great outcomes.
  • 3300 rpm delivers that many compressions per minute, creating well distributed blood flow in a very short amount of time. The 6" spinning disk of an oscillating percussion massager (OPM) makes a difference in both the application and efficiency of massage to the recipient. The soft yet firm and wide application provides for a full spectrum of techniques, depths and comfort levels.



In our training, we refer to the proper application of OPM and RPM tools as NICE-MEAN-NICE.  Most people repel at the idea of an RPM tool when it held up in front of them.  It looks similar to a hammer and no one wants a hammer pounded on their body!  It’s frightening and actually activates a cortisol and flight or fight response.  This is not healthy and may actually lead to degradation of healthy muscle tissue.  However, if a soft and desirable massage is introduced prior to using the RPM tool, most people report a favorable response with less apprehension.  An OPM tool is NICE and should be used for 2-5 minutes prior to using an RPM tool.  The OPM tool should be used with Wrapping® technique and some light Cleraring® to prepare tissue.  Then use the RPM tool gently and for 1-2 minutes on a focuse area of fibrosis.  Follow the RPM tool with the OPM tool to again remind the body that the intervention was intended to help and was safe.  In order for people to heal and recover thoroughly, they need to feel safe and rested.  A state of relaxation is the best medicine for proper healing and using an OPM tool in the NICE - MEAN - NICE sequence is the best way to properly apply these massage tools.  

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