If recovery is a big part of the recipe for better fitness and overall wellness, then deep tissue massage has been an age-old secret ingredient for helping muscle pain and sore muscles.
The emergence of foam rollers showed that there was more than one way to improve your soft tissue and bring pain relief.
But, is it possible that there’s an even better way?
In other words, it’s a handheld device that’s designed to give you elements of a physical therapist who does massage or trigger point therapy — but without the actual therapist.
At Born Fitness, we’ve received endless questions from our clients (like the one below) about whether this new wave of recovery tool is worth the investment.
Theragun vs. HyperIce: What You Need To Know
The battle for handheld massage gun supremacy likely has more to do with minor details right now.
In terms of what each device will do for your body, the methods are very similar.
Both Theragun and HyperIce are ergonomic devices. They are both technically a “percussion massager” because they are shaped like a jigsaw and deliver fast (yet soft) bursts of pressure to your muscles. That pressure is delivered at some serious speed.
The Theragun completes about 40 revolutions (touching your skin and then lifting off) every second, while the HyperVolt promises up to 3200 revolutions per minute (~53 revolutions every second).
Theragun claims that these percussive massage blows help reduce muscle tension and promote blood flow.
Both devices can be used for a warm-up or to target muscle groups that might be causing some pain or are slow to recovery.
If you’re into anecdotal evidence and popular opinion, most people swear by them. Professional athletes in almost every sport use the devices. Even Cristiano Ronaldo has been spotted using one while lounging on leopard print pillows.
But, are there any studies supporting the effectiveness of these devices?
Massage Gun Research: Are They Effective?
Research on the exact devices is very limited right now, mostly because both Theragun and HyperIce are relatively new devices.
But, the idea of a massager gun is rooted in research done on vibration massage.
The earliest research predates the handy devices. Back in 2014, researchers compared vibration massage, regular massage, and no massage. If you received any type of massage — vibration or regular — it led to improvements in muscle soreness, muscle damage, and improved range of motion. And, the benefits appeared to last between 24 to 72 hours.
And, in 2017, a research team found that vibration therapy could help reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and improve range of motion. For those not familiar, DOMS is the soreness that tends to kick into high gear about 1-2 days after your workout.
While vibration training gave a benefit, it wasn’t unique to the vibration. Traditional massage provides the same muscle-soreness-reducing benefits, so that likely isn’t a unique benefit.
More recently, vibration was compared to foam rolling. After all, a $20 foam roller is just a bit cheaper.
The 2019 study found similar benefits for foam rolling and vibration foam rolling, which means both are good recovery options. If you want extra benefits, the participants who used vibration also experienced a reduction in pain perception and better range of motion compared to foam rolling.
The most recent work was this study, which was one of the first to focus on the benefits of a massage gun.
The researchers found that using a percussion massager (AKA the massage gun) for 5-minutes improved ankle range of motion yet had little effect on strength. This means you could potentially use the tool before your workout to help improve your movement on exercises, such as being able to go deeper on a squat thanks to improved calf mobility.
What’s the Difference Between a Massage Gun and Foam Rolling?
Whether you’re using your gym’s old foam roller or a top-of-the-line percussion device, you’re not actually “changing” tissue in your body.
That’s because you can’t make a muscle longer. Not even deep tissue massage does that.
But, it is possible to increase blood flow (not backed by research just yet as it’s hard to measure) and, more importantly, reduce muscle tone. This is where you improve your range of motion.
The foam roller gets the job done in many ways, just like massage. That said, handheld devices offer versatility and might have some real advantages that make it more practical for you to aid your recovery.
A foam roller is a blunt-force object. It’s great for hitting wide, accessible areas like the front of your legs but the wrong tool for targeted treatment.
With percussion devices like the Theragun or HyperVolt, you can seek and destroy smaller areas like your shoulders.
Each of them also offer various head attachments that are designed to treat different sections of your body. For example, Theragun offers a massage head called the Supersoft Attachment, which is designed for extremely sore muscles and sensitive areas.
Plus, have you ever tried to carry on a foam roller? Both Therabody and Hypervice have created smaller devices designed to take anywhere.
For Therabody, it’s the Theragun Mini and for Hyperice, the Hypervolt Go. The smaller percussion massage devices offer more versatility with the ability to fit in your backpack, so you can take them anywhere.
The Theragun also has a pretty cool app that will guide you through different massage classes. The device alerts you when it’s time to switch to a different body part during the course.
And although they are expensive (starting at ~$200), if you’re someone who gets regular massages at $100 a pop, your Theragun or Hypervolt is going to pay for itself in one month.
We typically advise our clients to make the purchase based on a combination of benefits and budget.
If you can afford it, then the device certainly has some benefits and it can help with muscle recovery and soreness.
Not into shelling out the cash or looking for an alternative that fits into your price point? Current research suggests that any type of massage might have similar results, which means you can achieve similar results with foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and possibly sweet-talking your significant other.
And remember, massage guns and other forms of recovery gear will never replace your recovery foundation. No amount of massage treatment will offset poor sleep and nutrition, so make sure you continue to prioritize those goals.
B.J. holds a B.S. in Health and Human Performance and multiple certifications, including Precision Nutrition Level 1 and BioForce Certified Conditioning Coach. Over his 14-year coaching career, he’s been fortunate enough to coach a wide range of clients. From online clients looking to get in great shape to CEO Nate Checketts (Rhone) and CEO Marcelo Claure (Softbank), and professional skateboarder Sean Malto. Before beginning his training career, he was a sports science lab research assistant.