If you follow fitness-loving celebrities like Ashley Graham and Kevin Hart, you've probably seen the TheraGun pop up in your feed. The massage device looks like a power drill and rapidly pounds the body at 40 beats per second, using something called "percussive massage therapy" to supposedly relieve muscle pain. The newest version, the G2PRO, costs $ 599, and is marketed for at-home use. So how, exactly, did a physical therapy device become so trendy?
The TheraGun was invented by chiropractor Jason Wersland, D.C, after a motorcycle accident left him with a herniated disc and back pain. To help manage his pain, Wersland decided to try percussive massage therapy, which he defines for SELF as a "form of deep soft tissue manipulation." Think of the percussive motion as a beating or hammering movement, versus just vibration. He created the TheraGun to bring this therapy to athletes looking for ways to improve muscle recovery.
The TheraGun isn't the only percussive massage device on the market created for this purpose, though it may be the most ubiquitous. Competitors like the Hyperice Hypervolt and TimTam Power Massager utilize similar technologies (and also look kind of like power drills), and there are plenty of other self-massage devices out there that use this sort of percussive motion.
Ultimately, the TheraGun—and similar devices—just gives you a high-powered massage, William Oswald, D.P.T., clinical instructor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center, tells SELF. "The idea behind [the TheraGun] is to improve blood flow and circulation, which is good for short-term relief of acute muscle soreness, but it doesn’t have long-term benefit," Oswald explains. You can use the TheraGun the same way you would use a foam roller or massage ball to roll out a tight or sore muscle, he adds, but the force it produces may actually help you reach deeper muscles.
"Percussive massage therapy can be used on anyone," Dan Giordano, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., co-founder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy, tells SELF. Its potential to relieve pain is based on a medical idea known as the gate control theory, he explains. In essence, the theory suggests that providing a sensory input, like the non-painful stimulation from the TheraGun, to a spot that hurts, may help temporarily block the pain signals (or "close the gates") traveling to your brain.
Keep in mind that while the TheraGun—and other massage devices—may be a temporary fix for local, low-level, muscle-related pain, Oswald says, you should see a physician if you experience any intense, widespread pain, or think you may have an actual injury. Normal muscle soreness usually feels achy, stiff, tight, or tender, and eases up after a few days; an injury will often cause a sharp, stabbing, or deep pain that lingers.
“When you constantly use [a device] to block the pain stimulus, you’re just getting a quick solution," says Giordano. That's fine to potentially help dull pesky post-workout soreness, but if you think you might actually be injured, you should see your doctor to find out what's wrong so that they can help you come up with the best long-term treatment plan.
A decent amount of research suggests self-myofascial release (self-massage) can have positive effects ranging from increased flexibility to enhanced recovery. Some research even suggests that massage therapy after strenuous exercise may help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improve muscle performance. But devices like the TheraGun are still waiting to be put to the test. "There hasn't yet been a randomized, controlled study of hundreds of people," says Giordano.
Despite the lack of research on the tool's benefits, neither of the experts in this story are concerned about its safety. "I think this is a great tool if used correctly," Giordano says. That means using the device to help ease soreness when it's appropriate, and not using it in place of treatment for an actual injury.