What Is Percussion Massage Therapy And How Can It Benefit Runners? - RunBuzz -Experienced Online Running Coaches For All Skill Levels

What Is Percussion Massage Therapy And How Can It Benefit Runners?

percussion massagers for runners

Percussion therapy and the use of percussion massage guns have been all the rage on my social media streams since about 2018. I don't know about you, but I have been skeptical of the devices ever since I saw images of athletes getting their muscles pummeled by a device that looks like a fancy woodworking jigsaw.

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So what is percussion massage and do percussion massage guns work?
Are massage guns worth the money?
Can't I just foam roll instead? (Spoiler alert: The answer is to do both)

These are the questions I had when I was looking into them for my own recovery and these are just some of the questions, I set out to answer in this article.

The quick answer to all these questions is yes, they do work. But it also depends on what you plan to use a massage gun for. A massage gun, like this Theragun 4th generation Pro model  will definitely help you feel better and help you heal faster but you still have to match proper recovery with the adequate amount of rest and recovery.

When it comes to claims like do massage guns improve blood flow or reduce post exercise muscle soreness, the research is there to show that percussion massage therapy does work. In fact, percussion massage therapy has been around long before massage guns were even invented. Massage guns are just tools to make our life easier when it comes to applying self-massage techniques.

In this article I explore the topic of percussion massage, the benefits, the drawbacks, and then share my experience testing two well known massage guns: the Hyperice Hypervolt and the Theragun G3Pro. Both are high quality, market leading massage guns.

I also want to state that I did not receive any form of compensation or items from Hyperice or from Theragun, nor have I had any contact with them that could influence this article.

Note: Since this review, Theragun has officially change its name to Therabody AND they just came out with their next generation of massage guns, notably the Therabody Pro Generation 4 (G4Pro). They also have the Elite, Prime, and Mini models.  

The biggest difference between the Theragun G3 Pro and the new Generation 4 is noise reduction. The Generation 4 model is now much quieter, and rivals the Hypervolt but with the same power that the Theraguns has alway known for.

Since I don't own a Therabody Generation 4 model, I can't speak directly about it. It was just my luck that I purchased a Hypervolt and a few weeks later the Gen 4 model came out. It probably would have lead me more towards the Therabody/Theragun G4 since they drastically reduced the noise. Having said that, I love my Hypervolt.

Any mention of the Theragun in this article is specific to the G3 Pro model which is still an outstanding massage gun. You can probably even get some great deals on them since as of this week they are now a back model.

Ok, on to my review...

I borrowed both from a close friend who has her own physical therapy practice so I could try them out before buying own for myself. I ultimately purchased the Hyperice Hypervolt which I felt was the best for my needs despite both being high quality devices. 

Previous to purchasing my own, I spent a lot of time researching several models and before making the investment, I wanted to see if they were really worth the cost. While inquiring about their usefulness with my friend, she recommended these two and let me take them home over the weekend.

I learned during my research that most massage guns on the market are total crap. Literally cheap knockoffs! I can count 4-7 models across 4-5 brands that I would consider buying. I'll share all of them at the very end of this article in case you want to look at them yourself.

Ultimately I ended up purchasing the Hypervolt. Both are great massage guns and can do the job, but for me the Hyperice won out based on the lower noise. If the Therabody G4Pro model was avaiable at the time, it most likely would have beat out the Hypervolt. It never fails.  Buy something and the next week a new one comes out.

In this article, I will share a little bit about each massager as they each have their pros and cons. 

But before we do that, let's look at percussion / vibration massage and see how I came to a decision to invest in one of these massagers.

What Is Percussion Massage Therapy?

Percussion massage therapy is actually a type of massage that has been around for a long time. Percussion massagers, otherwise referred to as massage guns are a tool to help apply percussion massage to anyone who wants to simulate a deep tissue massage or vibration massage.

Percussion massage guns work by delivering a series of rapid strikes, or blows to your muscles and soft tissues in order to increase blood flow to the area and increase your muscle range of motion. Proponents of percussion massage claim that massage guns help promote pain relief from post workout soreness to promoting faster, soft tissue repair and healing. 

Percussion massage guns mimic soft tissue massage techniques that some massage therapists do in order to deliver a form of deep tissue massage. These devices apply rapid, highly targeted pulse vibrations to a target area like your back, quads, hamstrings, calfs, adductors, hands, feet, shoulders, neck and arms. Various attachments are used to deliver slightly different strikes and vibrations to various trouble spots you may have.

What Are The Benefits Of Using A Massage Gun?

Here are some of the benefits of using percussion massagers:

  • Helps increase blood flow to your muscles and remove lymphastic waste fluids that collect as part of intense exercise and inflammation.  
  • Helps reduce muscle inflammation and post exercise soreness, like DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
  • Helps reduce and eliminate muscle adhesions. These are the knots and trigger points that develop naturally over time as muscle heals.
  • Helps increase overall mobility, flexibility and range of motion by keeping muscle fascia loose and frictionless
  • Helps activate the nervous system to give us an amazing post-massage feeling of relaxation and stress reduction.

When Should You Not Use A Massage Gun?

There are actually situations when you should not use a massage gun. Primarily it comes down to preexisting conditions like pulled muscles or broken bones. However, just like any form of massage or self myofascial release techniques like foam rolling, you should not perform them without seeking medical advise first. A massage gun is no different. 

Here is a list of conditions or situations where you should not use a massage gun without seeking medical advice first. 

  • Muscle strains and sprains
  • Injuries that result in chronic inflammation
  • Broken bones or suspected broken bones
  • Sprains
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Varicose veins
  • Osteoporosis (bone degeneration)
  • Conditions that affect your blood vessels (atherosclerosis, deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, etc)
  • Autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, etc.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia or gout.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list. If unsure if a massage gun is safe for you, please check with your doctor before using.

What does the Research Say About Massage Guns? Do They Work?

There is actually limited research available specific to the use of massage guns, however there is a decent amount of research available on percussion  massage and vibration therapy itself. As I researched the topic, most of the research was conducted using massage therapists to deliver the percussion techniques and not massage guns themselves. But that does not mean that they don't work. In fact, I experienced it working on me in at least a few key areas. Other areas were harder for me to evaluate because I did not notice or could not tell. I'll share more of my experience at the end of this article.

Massage guns did not hit the mainstream until 2018, when the founder of Therabody (formerly known as  Theragun) released their massage gun to the market.A few years prior, the founder, a physical therapist, was in a motorcycle accident and was struggling with pain that was not being solved through traditional treatment. While home recovering, he created a rudimentary massage gun in his garage and found that the application of percussive techniques made his back feel better. As he researched why, he realized that percussion massage could help others and after working with some of his own patients and additional research, he decided to productize it with the invention of the Theragun. Once released, hundreds of other knock-offs started hitting the market. 

Here is a short video where he tells his story on the television show, The Doctors.

One of the most popular research studies on percussion massage looked at three groups of women. One group received percussion massage therapy techniques, one group received traditional massage therapy techniques and the last group (the control group) received no massage at all. 

Using a wide range of pre and post massage measurements, the results did back some of the claims that massage gun manufacturers are making. For example, both the traditional massage and the percussion massage research groups reported less post exercise (DOMS) soreness and the results were statistically equal among both groups.  This indicates that both traditional massage and percussion massage is great at reducing muscle soreness

Another key finding was that massage therapy was a bit better at helping the women recover strength faster over the percussion massage group and the control group (as measured by a one rep maximum strength test). I am not sure this is a useful finding, at least not in terms of helping runners. As runners what we want is faster healing. 

Another key observation was that the percussion group saw a signifiant reduction in Lactate Dehydrogenase (LDH) after 48 hours. This is important because LDH is found in muscles after intense exercise and is a key blood marker indicating muscle damage and the need for healing. The fact that the LDH was lower than the control group shows that the percussion massage group was healing faster. This is most likely due to the fact that both percussion massage and traditional sports massage increases blood flow and helps remove the metabolic waste that gets created during muscle use. 

Research Citations

Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To Compare the Effect of Vibration Therapy and Massage in Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(1):133‐136. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/7294.3971

Pournot H, Tindel J, Testa R, Mathevon L, Lapole T. The Acute Effect of Local Vibration As a Recovery Modality from Exercise-Induced Increased Muscle Stiffness. J Sports Sci Med. 2016;15(1):142‐147. Published 2016 Feb 23.

My Review Of The Therabody G3Pro (aka Theragun)

So my review of the Therabody G3Pro will be limited to just a weekend of use as I had to return both the G3Pro and the Hypervolt back to my friend as she uses them in her physical therapy practice. For this review I can only speak of it's quality, what it comes with, and how the actual massage went. I can not give any hands on experience with the long term impact the Therabody G3Pro had.

First off, the Therabody G3Pro is a powerful device. It is also a loud device. It wasn't obnoxious, but I would not want to be using it while watching TV or if I had young kids that were sleeping. The new Therabody Pro 4th Generation massage gun fixed this, but like I said, I did not know that a new model was coming out.

My impression is that this device is built for the professional market, but certainly available for anyone who wants quality. It felt sturdy and powerful. On it's strongest setting, it was quite jarring actually. Any doubts it could do the job went away pretty fast. 

The G3 Pro came with 6 attachments, two detachable, rechargeable batteries and a case. I played around with the attachments but found the large ball attachment great for working my glutes, quads and hamstrings, while the smaller ball attachment was great for an all around massage, especially on my tight calf muscles. 

When I first started using the device I had a tendency to want to cram it deep into my muscle. In fact, the video above even mentions it and how that is a common mistake people make when using the device. A quick look on Therabody's YouTube channel fixed that as they had several tutorials on how to best massage various parts of your body using their device. I probably would have known that if I had taken the time to read the instructions, but I am a jump right in and figure it out as I go type of guy.

The G3 Pro has 2 power settings. I found the lower setting more comfortable for me, but I could see how you might want the high power setting for larger muscle groups. The lower power setting felt great on my arms, calves, shoulders and neck. By the way, the neck massage is awesome! Get someone to do it for you, it will not disappoint. 

My overall experience was highly positive. 

If you are in the market for a Therabody, you won't be disappointed but it is a bit pricey. Since the new model came out, you can get a G3 at a reasonable price if you don't mind the noise.

My Review Of The Hyperice Hypervolt

When using the Hypervolt next to the G3Pro, the first thing I noticed was that it is not as loud as the G3Pro. The G3Pro was the more powerful device and you probably could benefit from that extra power if you really needed to go deep on your glutes or hamstrings. It does the job though.  If you press really hard, you can stall this one. But again I want to stress that the goal is to NOT shove the device deep into your muscles. It should strike naturally without pushing too hard. More is not always better.

Overall I found that there was enough similarities between the two that I would have been happy with either. If having that extra power is important to you, go with the Therabody/Theragun as it has the edge.

The Hypervolt had four attachments vs. the G3Pro's six but from what I was using it for, I am totally fine with it. I am sure the other Theragun attachments are nice to have, but I did not feel it was enough to make a difference in my case.

My experience with both were outstanding. In the end I ended up buying the Hypervolt from Amazon due to the fact that the price was a little lower and the noise factor.  

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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Steve is the founder and head running coach of RunBuzz.com. Steve is host of the RunBuzz podcast and founder of PaceBuilders, a complete online training program for runners. Steve is a RRCA / USA Track and Field Certified Running Coach and resides in Lewis Center, Ohio.