The latest trend in home wellness and recovery is percussion therapy. Therabody, the company that produces Theragun and other products got its start in 2007 so this type of product has been around for a while. There are also a lot of other companies and knockoff products all across the internet. The big question is does percussion therapy work and should you invest in a tool like Theragun.
by Dave “D2” Martinez
What is Percussion Therapy?
Through the use of a mechanical device, rapid bursts of pressure are applied in a specific area. There are claims that it enhances the repair of muscle fiber, allows for pain relief, and improves range of motion. I was able to find this study on the US National Library of Medicine site published by the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine on November 19, 2020. The study focused specifically on the calf muscles measuring the range of motion (ROM) and maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) torque of the plantar flexor muscles. Each participant had their calves massaged for 5 minutes. The study did conclude that there was an increase in range of motion compared to the control group but found no significant improvement in (MVC). In other words, there was no increase in vertical jump height. Percussion therapy was compared to conventional & vibration massage.
In a study about conventional massage, it was determined that it could improve flexibility (ROM) and delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS). However, there was no evidence that sports massage improves performance in strength, jump, sprint, endurance, or fatigue.
I couldn’t find any studies on percussion therapy and muscle repair. It could be argued that reducing soreness means muscles have been repaired. Percussion therapy could also be compared to compression therapy which is designed to increase blood flow. With increased blood flow there are more nutrients and oxygen, delivered to those areas which is said to help repair muscles. So in a roundabout way, the claim about muscle repair can be verified. The studies referenced above support the claim about reduced soreness/pain and increased flexibility (ROM).
Now that we’ve established the science behind percussion therapy and that it indeed helps, let’s dive into these specific models.
First, let me give you some background on myself so that I can be transparent in this review. A couple of years ago while I was training for a marathon, I purchased a percussion therapy tool from another brand. I also have a host of other massage tools that I use rather infrequently if I have to be honest. I usually reach for one or multiple devices once I feel enough tightness in my calves that I know will lead to a bigger issue down the road. In the past, I’ve had some plantar fasciitis issues that have always been related to tight calves. Usually from poor hydration, not stretching enough, and not to mention simply getting older. Both Theragun products were provided to me. I’m free to provide my own thoughts on these products and I hope that the review is honest and in no way influenced by the items provided by Therabody.
Let’s get the price out of the way. It’s $399 which is a large investment and will put a dent in your wallet. If you’re still reading this, then you’re at least interested if Theragun will do what it says and if it is worth the price of admission.
Let’s start off with the features of the Theragun Elite.
- Ergonomic Multi-Grip
- QuietForce Technology™
- 2-Hour Battery Life
- Smart App Integration with Bluetooth
- OLED Screen with Force Meter
- Customizable Speed Range
As I mentioned previously, I have another percussion device that has more of a pistol grip and design. I’ve used it over the last few years without giving a thought to ergonomics… until I started using the Theragun. It is a patented design and once I started using it and varying my hand position depending on the angle I was using it and the part of the body, I really saw it as a benefit. I never thought the design would change my preference of device but I do find it more comfortable and in some instances, more direct pressure on a specific spot because my wrist isn’t angled in a weird way. I will admit that I reach for the Theragun now than my other device. While this is not a major reason to choose Theragun over other devices, I would encourage you to try multiple designs in your hand (we have demos available in all of our locations). Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you try something else.
I can’t really comment on previous versions of Theragun, but I’ve read some other reviews that stated how noisy they were. I don’t find this to be too noisy and seems comparable to my other device. I can use it while watching TV and I don’t have to turn the volume up too much.
Having a 2-hour battery life is nice. I think I’ve used mine for 15-20 minutes at a time on my legs, which allows multiple uses before needing a recharge. It has 5 built-in speeds (1750, 1900, 2100, 2200, & 2400 percussions per minute) for various parts of the body. I’ve kept the speed range low as it seems to fill my needs right now. With the Therabody App, you can further customize the speeds to your choosing if the 5 options are not enough for you.
Great attention to detail is in the attachments which have a ball & socket connection. The kind you would find on socket wrenches or impact drivers you’d find in a hardware store. While these are plastic, it’s a nice touch that secures the attachment to the Theragun. It also comes with a hardshell case to keep all the various attachments (4 additional ones) and a power supply. Other brands don’t include a case, instead have this as an add-on option. What I like about this package is that it truly does feel “elite” as a whole package (and the price reflects that). The case makes it really easy to travel with this complete unit although it would take up a good amount of space in your luggage.
At $199, the Theragun Mini is a much more affordable option and that makes it easier to recommend.
- QuietForce Technology™
- 150-Minute Battery Life
- Compact, Portable Design
- 3 Speed Settings
The Theragun Mini comes with a soft case to protect the unit, however, the case will not hold the power supply. Because of its size, it’s better for travel, even if it’s on a daily basis to and from the office, gym, races, or even vacations.
Of course, due to the size and price, it doesn’t have all the features of the Theragun Elite. It only has 3-speed settings (1750, 2100, & 2400) but it covers the low, mid, & high range of the Elite. It does not offer Bluetooth connectivity to the Therabody App so you can’t customize the speed. It’s a hair quieter than the Theragun Elite and I haven’t been able to compare it to other smaller percussion massagers. While it lacks in features of the higher-end model, I don’t think you’re giving up much, especially for half the cost.
While the Theragun Mini doesn’t have a handle like the larger version the unique design fits nicely in the palm of your hand. Because of its small size, it also allows for easier access without a large handle/grip getting in the way.
That app is a nice bonus (it’s free) for those that have never used a percussion massage tool or are interested in how to get the most out of it. The Theragun Elite will connect via Bluetooth and it was quick and easy to connect. The app walks you through it. Select pair on the app and turn the device on. Within a few seconds, it’s paired. When going through routines on the app, it specifies the body part to focus on, how to grip the device, instructions, attachment to use, and a timer. When the timer hits zero, the device stops and starts quickly to alert you to move to the next body part.
There are a series of routines depending on your sport and whether you’re doing a warmup before your activity or a recovery session post-workout. There are even routines for those that work from home (applicable for office use), travel, jetlag, and even before sleep. The routines are also organized by body part in case you want to focus on a specific area.
Regardless of how good a device might be, if you don’t know how to use it and get the most out of it, it’s likely going to sit unused and make for an expensive paperweight. The app helps you quickly get started and it’s so easy to follow that anyone can become an expert in no time.
In the past, I’ve used any massage tool once I start feeling discomfort. I’ve used it recently the night before and the morning of 2 races and my legs felt great. I could tell I had a greater range of motion and my Garmin device confirmed it since it’s able to measure my stride length. I can feel the benefits of it during regular use. If you have a chance to test one out (we have them at our locations specifically for that purpose), I’d recommend that you massage one specific body part like a calf. Then stand up and walk around or even hop on each leg. You’ll notice that the calf that was massaged feels lighter and you’re able to hop a little more effortlessly.
One of the best ways to start a new habit is to make it easier to do. That’s one of the reasons I rarely used a foam roller. It required getting on the floor and using my body weight to increase pressure and then move my body back and forth to roll out my legs. These types of mechanical massagers make it much easier. You can massage your legs while sitting down watching TV or streaming a video at your desk. With a typical foam roller, you’re also getting a bit of an upper-body workout, which isn’t really a bad thing but if you’ve got knots in your calves, you really don’t want to feel discomfort in your legs and your arms. The design of these handheld massagers allows you to use them more often and improve your flexibility.
At $399, it would be hard to recommend the Theragun Elite unless it offered some sort of life-changing experience. I’m not sorry that I have the Elite, the ergonomic design is great and I do use it now on a regular basis (1-2 times a week). At $199, The Theragun Mini is a much better option as you only lose a few features but retain all the major benefits at half the price. Of course, at either price, if you’re not going to use it regularly and it’s going to collect dust in a corner, it’s not a good use of your hard-earned money. If you commit to using either on a regular basis, the increased range in motion, the fewer chances of injury, improved recovery, and even better personal performance are going to be worth the cost. But only you can determine that for yourself. Visit any of our locations or shop online (free shipping).