Does Percussive Therapy Actually Work?

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Before we answer the question, let’s back up and ask another: What is percussive therapy? For those of us who have been living under a social media rock and haven’t seen the videos, we’re basically talking about power tools for massage. Brand names like Theragun, Hypervolt, and Timtam have come up with physical therapy tools that look like something you’d find in a woodworking shop, but feel more like a karate-punching massage therapist in your hand.

These are not simply vibrating devices that shake the surface of your skin; they’re more like powerful automated hammers that slam deep into your muscles. By most accounts, it feels as good as it sounds.

Does percussive therapy work?

The verdict is still out on percussive massage therapy devices, with few if any scientific studies available. We do know that good old fashioned massage works, however. Massage is great for relieving soreness after a hard workout. Massage helps with injury recovery, flexibility, chronic pain, fatigue, and a host of other conditions — and there’s no reason to think that percussive therapy, as a form of massage, isn’t equally beneficial.

Percussive massage is good for deep tissue work, which as been shown to increase blood circulation and oxygen distribution. Professional athletes use the devices after working out to help with recovery, and also before working out as part of warming up.

Is percussive therapy worth it?

There’s the catch. These devices can be expensive. They cost up to $600 for top-of-the-line models. That’s a lot more expensive than a visit to a massage therapist, and it’ll certainly cost you more than staying at home and stretching on a foam roller.

There are less expensive percussive massage devices available, though, and prices continue to come down as more come to market. If you find one that works for you, and it’s something you use regularly, then you may be able to justify the cost compared to repeat visits to a professional massage therapist.

Keep in mind, though, that even with ergonomic handles and fancy rotating heads, there are some things you won’t be able to do on your own. Self-massage is great, but it’s hard to beat a second pair of hands for those hard-to-reach spots.

Alternatives to percussive massage devices

It’s still hard to beat a professional massage therapist, both for their training and the total relaxation you feel when you can lie there and let somebody else do all the work. If you don’t want to spend the money on a massage therapist, your next best bet might be to convince a friend or partner (they’ll probably want you to return the favor).

After that, self-massage is your best remaining option. For arms and legs it’s relatively easy, but if you need to to reach your back you might want to pick up a simple trigger point massager, which is basically just an S-shaped piece of knobbed plastic — no batteries required, and much less expensive than an electric hammer.