Massage Gun vs. Foam Roller: What’s the Best Recovery Tool?

“Are you using a massage gun or a foam roller?” That’s a question you’ll hear in many exercise settings, from the yoga mat to the running track. The foam roller, usually a tube reinforced with foam padding, has long been a staple of gyms – and lately, home gyms – and foam rolling exercises are part of any serious runner’s routine.

However, in recent years, gun-shaped percussive therapy devices have grown in popularity. The best massage guns have been advertised as being able to relieve muscle soreness, improve range of motion, and speed recovery after exercise.

Global sports stars including Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka and four-time winner golfer Rory McIlroy have praised the benefits of massage guns (and are “sports investors” in the Hyperice brand), but the roller in less flashy foam is designed to provide many of the same benefits. So what’s the best recovery tool for your next workout?

We spoke to a massage specialist and a physical therapist to hear the experts’ views on the pros and cons of massage guns and foam rollers to help you decide whether you should use a gun or a roller.

Massage gun versus foam roller:

Although massage guns and foam rollers can provide similar physiological benefits, they do so in different ways.

“Foam rollers are similar to manual therapy in that they interact with the nervous system to send different signals to the body and brain, to relax the muscles being rolled,” says Ruth McKinnon, chain massage manager at London-based gym and fitness Ten. health and fitness (opens in a new tab).

“When used correctly – with slow, intentional movements, breathing deeply and allowing your body to relax – the experience should be pleasant, signaling to the painful area that the protective seal in the muscle isn’t necessary,” says McKinnon.

In contrast, massage guns rely on the more powerful method of percussive therapy, where different levels of pressure are applied quickly and repeatedly to the soft tissues of a muscle. Industry leader Therabody, for example, calibrates all of its devices to fire 1,750 to 2,400 percussions per minute (PPM), or 40 times per second at maximum speed, delivering up to 60 lbs (27 kg) of force. .

“In theory, this repeated percussion movement stimulates blood flow to the area, triggering the release of muscles, so as to lessen the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness. [DOMS]says McKinnon. “But from my perspective, it’s just another way of interacting with the nervous system to decrease the pain and discomfort felt in the body.”

Massage guns: the advantages

The man uses a massage gun on his legs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hand-held massage guns are more convenient than foam rollers, which usually require you to lay on them to isolate the target area. Travel or handheld massage guns, such as the Theragun Mini, are easy to carry and use at your desk or in your van, while powerful, professional-grade models like the Theragun PRO or Hyperice Hypervolt 2 Pro even have been adopted by home massage providers such as Urban (opens in a new tab).

Therabody claims massage guns can deliver all of the benefits of foam rolling in a fraction of the time. The Californian company points to a 2021 study (opens in a new tab) in particular, who found percussive therapy to be more effective than foam rolling and able to deliver the equivalent of 15 minutes of manual therapeutic massage in two minutes.

Nuno Henriques, Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist at London’s Technique Health and Fitness (opens in a new tab), which offers physiotherapy, osteopathy, strength training and fitness services, is skeptical. “In my opinion, there is no compelling evidence that massage guns provide additional benefits beyond those offered by foam rolling,” Henriques says.

“They may be useful to use as part of a structured warm-up and have been shown clinically to be effective in reducing perceived pain, increasing range of motion without affecting muscle performance, and reducing DOMS. But they cannot increase muscle activation or force production, as some massage gun companies have claimed.

McKinnon says massage guns should also be used sparingly and with caution. “They can ease the pain for some,” she says. “However, overuse can overstimulate the area, causing the body to react to what it perceives as danger, which constricts it further.”

Foam rollers: the benefits

Woman using foam roller on running track

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the advantages of foam rollers over massage guns is their affordability. The most expensive device in our best massage guns roundup costs £549, compared to £188 for the Hyperice Vyper 2.0 vibrating foam roller in our best foam rollers roundup. More importantly, the budget options are much more reasonably priced: the vibration-free TriggerPoint Grid Roller, one of Henriques’ top picks, costs £32.

“Foam rollers have been more thoroughly researched, proven to improve flexibility and range of motion without compromising muscle performance, and their benefits can be felt quickly,” says Henriques. A few minutes of effective, lower-body rolling can help improve your squat depth, for example.

“That said, the physiological gains from foam rolling typically only last a few minutes,” Henriques explains. “It must therefore be combined with active movement and stretching to prolong its beneficial effects.”

As with massage guns, foam rollers can also cause more pain if used incorrectly, compressing nerves and pain receptors uncomfortably.

Massage gun versus foam roller: the verdict

Massage guns are generally more expensive than foam rollers, but also more convenient and versatile. A foam roller, however, given its lower price, is less likely to become a regrettable purchase if you barely use it. So while the scientific jury is still out on these recovery tools, our experts agree that personal preference should decide the winner.

“It will always depend on the individual,” Henriques says. “I would personally go with a foam roller as the research is inconclusive on massage guns, yet the benefits are similar. But if you’re more likely to use a massage gun regularly, you’ll be better off. beneficial in the long term.

McKinnon goes further. “I would always recommend a foam roller,” she says. “There’s less chance of it being misused and you can adapt your use, staying static on a pressure point or moving dynamically over the muscle, whereas massage guns only offer one type of percussion treatment.”

The claims of some massage gun companies, she says, are also often based on limited trials and case studies. “Like everything, they will do wonders for some but not all. It’s very subjective, so don’t just rely on them to improve your health or performance.

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