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Dec 8 2020:


Without access to our standard pre-2020 amenities, self care tools for the home are now a necessity for staying fit and healthy. Which of them really work and which of them are dust-gathering gimmicks? Which would make a good gift? The newest of the gadgets are the high-tech (and high-price) massage guns and may already be on your wishlist.

These “guns” deliver what therapists call vibrational or percussive therapy and they introduce high frequency, low amplitude vibration into the muscles. Leaders in this category go by the names Hypervolt and Theragun. Fully loaded some top out at $500.

Is this a new technique? Absolutely not. Watch any televised depiction of a massage setting and you’ll see someone getting fast-paced karate chopped. Along with kneading, stripping, and friction, percussion or “tapotement” is believed to create either a relaxation or stimulating effect on the nervous system and correspondingly the muscles. The action also physically warms the tissue and promotes higher blood flow in the area, prepping you for your workout and helping with your cool down.

Unlike some of the other self-care tools, these massage guns actually outperform the flesh and blood therapist. No person could hit you 40 times per second with the same degree of precision as a massage gun. 

When are they most useful? Mark Anderson, owner at MWA Health & Fitness, formally Stephen Cabral Studio in Boston’s South End, will use his Hypervolt on his clients after a workout to reduce the muscle soreness that will come the next day (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS).

Mid-workout, when muscle tension might be limiting proper form or performance, he’ll apply the Hypervolt to release the tension from the problem area.

“Also it’s great when folks have it at home for when I check in with them,” added Anderson. “They tell me whatever is tight and I can have them safely use it on themselves or have a partner do it.”

Jaxie Meth, physical therapist and Saldare coworker, explains that these tools can provide “deeper” work without causing a lot of pain.

“The speed at which the Theragun can attain can override the brain to decrease pain signals which makes for a more comfortable treatment.”

She brings up an interesting point that I frequently mention to my clients: Deep tissue work can be a necessary and painful experience, but pain for its own sake can be counterproductive. If you’re trying to overcome an injury or improve the range of motion in an area, pain might inhibit flexibility, turn off muscles you are trying to activate, or trigger a spasm.

This ability to override pain signals going to the brain and trick a muscle to relaxing goes a long way. With particularly jumpy clients, I would use a handheld Brookstone massager to push past these surface levels of tension so I could move into deeper work with my elbows. 

Here comes a key distinction--one which most of you have been pondering since seeing the price tag on these new guns—those Brookstone massagers were just over $100. Is there an extra $500 worth of space-age technology lurking inside? Is this the Canada Goose of vibrators?

Jaxie says you’ll never attain the level of depth with a gift store gun that you will with the Theragun, thanks to the increased force and amplitude of the pulse. 

Another key difference is the rechargeable Lithium battery, which allows the user to bring and use it anywhere, without fumbling with a chord. 

Other options accounting for the higher price include interchangeable heads for different depths and body parts; More intensity settings; pressure sensors; and of course bluetooth.

I mean, what’s the point of doing anything if it’s not involving your phone and the internet? According to product literature, the gun can communicate through Bluetooth with the corresponding phone app to help you personalize warmups and recoveries all while hastening the Rise of the Machines. The machines are partnering with a growing number of contents providers and wellness experts.

Will these wunderguns works your buns in the same way a skilled muscular therapist will? Nope. There’s more to soft tissue work than blood flow and temporary relaxation. Are they more trendy and fabulous? YES girlfriend. Most of us bodyworkers are dirty hippies and hobos.

Still, they serve an important role because most people can’t have massage therapist with them during flare ups and after workouts; Also a real therapist can’t be stowed under the bed or be forced to watch bad tv with you while kneading out your quads.

Intrigued but not sold on the pricetag? You should also know that you can find lower- and mid-priced alternatives all over the web— from Chinese knock-offs to certified Brookstone-branded units. You can also opt for fewer options to bring down the prices.

Here are some things to consider while comparing products:

-How important to you is noise? Some tout very low noise levels; 

-What is more important, size or power? If you want maximum ultimate power you are looking at a bigger, heavier unit.

-Do you want to treat multiple areas? Units with multiple heads and adjustable angles of attack should be considered.

-Price…see above. Is brand name a thing for you? Is reliability? The category is a little too new to have track records in this area, bought you’ve surely tried to save money on Amazon before. Finally, is the person you’re buying for at the top or bottom or Santa’s list?

Want the straight talk, honest opinion POV? I came into this with some heavy, dramatic eye-rolling. Can I appreciate the durability and specific applicability these things have compared to the Brookstone things? Sure. Do I detest conspicuous consumption? A lot. Do I consider percussion to be a serious soft-tissue modality with proven long-term gains? Not really, however, my ability to provide it has always been limited. 

But I’m open to the idea for the following reasons:
-Coming up on 20 years in the industry, I am always learning new things
-Musculoskeletal health, exercise, and massage is so incredibly SUBJECTIVE for each body/brain combination
-Working out CAN BE SO FREAKING BORING. Self care almost never lasts more than a week or two. ANYTHING to make these things more engaging is fine by me if it works.

Check out these links to compare units and find a good price scale. Keep in mind most reviews and ranking stories and underwritten by one product or another.