What’s the deal with Theraguns?

What’s the deal with Theraguns? Ask a Toronto Physiotherapist!

This past holiday season you might have noticed that a popular gift was the massage gun with different accessories and a big price tag. So what are these tools, how can they help you, and are they worth it? 

There are a few ways to classify these small kinetic motor devices such as vibration therapy, therapeutic external vibration units, massage guns, percussion therapy, etc. The two main brands out there are Theragun and Hypervolt but there are others that you can find for a reduced price. Each model has a variety of settings for frequency and amplitude and different accessory heads depending on the body part the device is being applied to and the person’s tolerance (ie. Flat point, forked, big and small ball).  

The goal of these tools are to facilitate soft tissue manipulation and help with muscle soreness and pain. The rapid and deep compressive strokes administered to the area of treatment can cause a neuromuscular response and reduce pain. The machine utilizes gate control theory which is when a non-painful stimuli overrides or reduces pain signals to the brain, similar to when you rub or massage your toe after you stub it. The massage gun is predominantly used after exercise to help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Although it can also be used for everyday aches and pains. 

In general, there are few studies out there on the effects of percussion and massage therapy tools. The findings are a bit unclear due to the lack of consistency in experiment parameters of settings on the device and location of vibration/ treatment. More studies will come out in the next few years especially with the high demand and popularity of these new tools so the evidence of what these devices do and how they do it will evolve. 

That being said, in two recent studies, percussion therapy did not perform any better than stretching, massage, or foam rolling to help relieve soreness and muscle tension (Fuller, Thomson, Howe and Buckley, 2015) (Cullen, Casazza and Davis, 2021). A systematic review revealed that the massage guns can help increase range of motion but did not affect muscle activation or force output. In summary, the devices can be used before exercise to help improve muscle length and it will not impede muscle performance (Martin, 2021) (Andreas Konrad and Glashuttner, 2022). 

Now, we are all wondering… Is the price worth it!? The current evidence suggests that there are cheaper alternatives that can similarly help with muscle soreness/pain. However, if increasing muscle range of motion is your goal, it may be something worth looking into. Ultimately, it is up to the consumer what their preference is and if it fits their budget! With the increased demand for this product, there will undoubtedly be more research in the future to help navigate if it is right for you. 

Alison Parker, Physiotherapy Resident

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References

Andreas Konrad, C. and ttner, M., 2022. The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7675623/>.

Cullen, M., Casazza, G. and Davis, B., 2021. Passive Recovery Strategies after Exercise: A Narrative Literature Review of the Current Evidence. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 20(7), pp.351-358.

Fuller, J., Thomson, R., Howe, P. and Buckley, J., 2015. Vibration Therapy Is No More Effective Than the Standard Practice of Massage and Stretching for Promoting Recovery From Muscle Damage After Eccentric Exercise. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 25(4), pp.332-337.

Martin, J., 2021. A critical evaluation of percussion massage gun devices as a rehabilitation tool focusing on lower limb mobility: A literature review.

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