Is percussive massage therapy the answer to muscle recovery?

Annie Hayes
·6-min read
Photo credit: Theragun - Gallery Stock
Photo credit: Theragun - Gallery Stock

From Netdoctor

Every now and again a shiny new gadget comes along to change the game, and we're left wondering how we ever survived without it. The Theragun claims to be such a device, promising to make you feel better, move better, and recover faster, and it's taking the health and fitness industry by storm.

Widely considered the gold standard in percussive therapy – a massage technique used to relieve deep tissue pain and muscle tension – it's akin to having your own personal masseuse on-demand. Since launching in 2016, Theragun has soothed the muscles of personal trainers, world-class athletes and even celebs – Cristiano Ronaldo, Chris Hemsworth, Kim Kardashian and Shakira are all huge fans.

Besides easing pain and tension, the gadget has a whole host of physiological benefits, from increasing flexibility and range of motion to improving your posture and even supporting your slumber. And so it should for the price tag – the range starts at £175 for the ultra-compact Theragun Mini and extends to £549 for the all-singing, all-dancing Theragun Pro.

It's a lot of money for a handheld massage device, no matter which way you spin it. But is the Theragun worth parting with the cash? We put the device through its paces to find out:

What does the Theragun do?

The power-driven device was developed by chiropractor Dr Jason Wersland after a motorcycle accident left him with debilitating muscle and nerve pain. An idea that started as a foam-padded power tool has transformed into a Bluetooth-connected massage gun that can make real-time recommendations based on your usage.

It uses percussive therapy to pummel sore muscles 2,400 times per minute (40 per second), reaching deep into the tissue to essentially vibrate the pain away. This might sound like a lot, but the high speed is designed to override the pain signals in your brain, making the treatment more comfortable than a manual massage.

The gun has an amplitude of 16mm, allowing it to reach deep into the muscle tissue to work its tension-relieving magic – around 60 per cent deeper than consumer-grade vibration massagers. This deep, rapid pulsing of your muscle fibres stimulates your nervous system, encouraging heat and blood flow to bring oxygen and nutrients in, while at the same time, clearing waste products out.

The Theragun comes with a selection of different attachments to tailor your treatment, from the smaller-sized Thumb and Cone heads – ideal for pinpointing specific muscles with precision – to the Wedge, which targets your shoulder blades and IT bands and is also super effective for flushing lactic acid from affected muscles. There's a Dampener for tender or bony areas, and the general-use Standard Ball, which tackles large and small muscle groups alike. All are made with non-porous closed-cell foam. which doesn't absorb lotion, sweat, or oils.

The fourth generation Theragun

Each year, the team has tweaked and improved upon the existing design, and 2020 is no different. Each Theragun – and there are four to choose from: Pro, Elite, Prime and Mini – features QuietForce Technology to keep noise levels at a minimum. All apart from the Mini are Bluetooth-connected and work with the Therabody app.

The app is essentially your in-house physio. It creates guided wellness routines according to your activity, behaviours, and preferences –with a focus on reducing muscle soreness, improving mobility and increasing relaxation – and will also automatically adjust the speed, tell you when to change attachments or adjust your grip, and will even provide feedback on the applied force (whether you're pushing too hard).

As well as a longer battery life – twice as long as the previous model – the latest Theragun Pro boasts wireless charging, an OLED screen with built-in force meter (so you can visually gauge how hard you're pushing), customisable speeds, a rotating arm, and two swappable batteries that last for a continuous run-time of 300 minutes, should you need to massage a sports team's worth of people in one go.

The benefits of using a Theragun

You can use the Theragun before training as part of your warm-up, post-workout to keep DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) at bay, before bed to encourage a better night's kip, or to relieve chronic muscle pain as and when required.

Ask any physio, and they'll wax lyrical about the potent benefits of massage. All the same benefits extend to the Theragun – and better yet, you can reap them from the comfort of your own home. Some of the many benefits include:

  • Increasing blood flow

  • Decreasing lactic acid

  • Improving range of motion

  • Hydrating tissue

  • Preventing adhesions

  • Faster warm-up

  • Faster recovery

  • Increasing flexibility

  • Decreasing inflammation

  • Improving posture

  • Decreasing muscle soreness

  • Enhancing sleep quality

But don't just take our word for it. To date, the Theragun team has published three abstracts, and has another 16 studies underway on a variety of topics spanning the breadth of percussive therapy, from athletic performance to pain treatment and most recently, sleep.

In a small study conducted in association with Biostrap Labs, 87 per cent of participants fell asleep faster after using a Theragun at night time. In addition, 70 per cent experienced improved sleep efficiency, with significantly fewer awakenings and sleep disruptions.

The Theragun review

Our editor Rhalou Allerhand reviewed the Theragun at home during lockdown 2.0 and was impressed with the results:

The Theragun may have been designed with workout recovery in mind, but it's proven quite handy for post-natal and sleep deprived digital editors too. Since having a baby and returning to work during lockdown, I have found myself not only lugging an enormous 10kg bundle of joy around, but I'm also often hunched over my desk late at night and my shoulders were starting to suffer.

I had planned to book in a spa day and a full body massage after the baby arrived, as childbirth is quite a gruelling feat of endurance! But thanks to lockdown life this has proven impossible and with the risk of COVID-19 at an all-time high, I was not prepared to invite a massage therapist into my home. Step in the Theragun.

Thanks to an ergonomic, adjustable head that allows you to massage your own back and shoulders, I have been able to release tight muscles throughout the day and the results have been game changing. Admittedly I have found it easier if I get my partner to reach the hard-to-reach tight spots, but for those long desk-days when I'm on my own and everything starts to hurt, reaching for the Theragun has been a godsend. It is a bit noisy, but miraculously it doesn't wake the baby so no complaints here.

Before having a baby I was a dedicated long-distance runner and, while I'm no way near my previous fitness levels, I have found the Theragun useful for massaging my legs following my gradual return to fitness. I'm looking forward to testing it out properly on my legs once I'm marathon fit.

Last updated: 07-01-2021

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