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Theragun vs. Foam Roller

  • Category: Sports Medicine
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: James Ting, MD
Theragun vs. Foam Roller

The Theragun, which is a type of massage gun, and a foam roller are both tools that can be used post-workout to relieve any muscle pain or soreness. We spoke to HOI’s sports medicine physician, Dr. James Ting, to get his expertise on both of these recovery tools.

Q: What does the foam roller do?
A: A foam roller is a Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) workout recovery tool that employs body weight to actively "roll" out sore muscle groups, with the intent of treating and relieving muscle pain, tightness, inflammation, as well as increasing range of motion.

Q: What does a Theragun do?
A: A Theragun is another SMR workout recovery tool that utilizes a powered handheld device that delivers high-frequency percussive massage therapy on the skin to target sore muscle groups, with a similar goal of treating and relieving muscle soreness, stiffness, inflammation, and increasing range of motion.

Q: How are they similar/different?
A: A foam roller and a Theragun are both treatment modalities based on the principles of myofascial release. Both target muscles and fascia with the intent of relieving pain and soreness as well as decreasing tightness and increasing flexibility. The mechanical pressure exerted by these devices on nerve pain receptors in the muscles is thought to modulate and ultimately reduce the perception of pain in the targeted area.

Other benefits are thought to potentially derive from mobilizing lactic acid out of sore muscles, as well as from improving blood flow and therefore the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to muscles, thereby reducing inflammation and supporting recovery. Additional benefits are thought to be possibly due to the stimulation of nerve receptors in the targeted area which ultimately induce muscle relaxation, subsequently allowing access to a greater range of motion. It is important to note, however, that research on the effectiveness and derived benefits of these modalities is still overall limited.

While both treatment tools function as myofascial release modalities, the two devices differ in both the manner in which they target the affected area, as well as in the potential size of the targeted area itself. Foam rollers rely on body weight and manual rolling of typically larger muscle groups and areas, whereas a Theragun utilizes powered percussion massage therapy for more directed treatment of pinpoint areas and muscle groups.

Q: When would you use one over the other?
A: A foam roller may be more beneficial for those targeting a larger area of the body, and for those looking for a gentler treatment modality. A Theragun may be more useful for targeting small and harder-to-reach muscle groups or areas, or for those looking for a deeper and/or more intense massage treatment. Cost may also be a factor in choosing one over the other, as a Theragun is significantly more expensive than a foam roller.

Q: Are there precautions/dangers to each?
A: Caution should be advised for individuals attempting to self-treat an injury or an area that has not yet been formally evaluated. Individuals that have underlying conditions that could potentially predispose to injury from aggressive myofascial treatments and/or deep massage therapy, such as osteoporosis or varicose veins in the intended treatment area, should be cautious and seek an evaluation from a board certified Sports Medicine Doctor before proceeding with use of these devices. Pregnant individuals should also consult with their physician prior to use of these devices.