Two LA women develop bizarre ear disease caused by their massage gun

Last year, two Los Angeles women, aged 31 and 48, visited Cedars-Sinai hospital on separate occasions suffering from a mysterious, debilitating illness. 

They were hit with the classic symptoms of vertigo: a condition that causes constant dizziness and feels as if you are on a never-ending carnival ride. 

The majority of patients also suffer nausea, making it difficult to even get out of bed.

There was no obvious cause in either case as both women were relatively young and healthy.

Doctors were puzzled, until they discovered that the patients shared a daily habit — using a battery powered massager, such as a Theragun, to ease aching shoulders and necks. 

Vertigo is a condition that causes intense dizziness, nausea and difficulty moving. One sufferer described it as feeling like being on a carnival ride in a 2020 case study.

When the doctors asked the women to cease their massage gun routine, their conditions were cured almost immediately. 

These two cases led Dr Ronen Nazarian, an otolaryngologist at Cedars-Sinai and doctoral student David Elisha, to conclude that using devices like Theragun on your shoulders and neck can make people develop a rare condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).

They explain that the intense vibrations emitted by the device can, in rare cases, disrupt the intricate balance mechanism in the ear. 

Now, they want users to be warned that using this wellness device could make you unwell.

‘Manufacturers should issue generalized warnings on vertigo risks associated with these devices, especially when used near the head and upper neck,’ they wrote in their case report, published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head Neck Surgery. 

Theragun is by no means the only brand of this kind of massager, but it is far and away the most popular brand in the US, accounting for 71 percent of the market as of 2021. 

The original Theragun sells for $149 online. Other retailers, like HyperVolt and RecoverFun, sell their massage guns for $199 and $99 respectively. 

These massagers are sold to provide concentrated deep tissue massage to relieve sore muscles. 

Devices are used to alleviate tension on the neck, shoulders and even the base of their skull. 


Vertigo develops when there’s disruption to the balance system in the inner ear. This can be caused by head trauma, or in the case study presented by Dr Nazarian, frequent vibrations.

BPPV is a relatively rare condition. Roughly 3.2 percent of people develop it every year, the authors write. 

It happens when the organs that control balance, which sit in your inner ear, are disturbed. This collection of organs, called your vestibular system, look sort of like a pair of snails. 

A number of things can disturb the inner ear, including infection, stroke and medications. But most cases of this kind of vertigo are caused by head trauma – like concussions, falls or assault.

The disruption causes your body to lose its sense of balance, and develop dizziness, unsteadiness, nausea, lightheadedness, vomiting and difficulty moving as a result. 

It makes you feel like you’re ‘on a carnival ride’ an unidentified vertigo sufferer shared in a 2020 case report.  

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But as the study lays out, intense, frequent vibrations also cause vertigo. 

Dr Nazarian suggests in the paper that vertigo caused by vibrations might be underreported, and that even using electric toothbrushes could be enough to trigger the condition. 

While this might sound far-fetched, other medical experts agree. 

Riding a bike on a bumpy terrain and intense aerobic exercise have also caused cases of vertigo, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. 

This mechanism could be taking place with massage guns, which prod the body between 1,700 – 5,000 times a minute, accounting for between 31 and 70 pounds of force. 

This amount of force could cause the tiny features that control our balance in the inner ear to jostle, the authors say, causing vertigo. 


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