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Demystifying The Massage Gun Category

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Percussive Therapy vs Vibration Therapy

By Tyler Herring, Director of Tennis Specialty Sales, Therabody

If you’ve been on social media or YouTube and looked up a fitness video over the last few years, you’ve probably noticed an explosion of hand-held massage gun devices intended to aid people in recovery from their day-to-day — whether that be intense athletic training, playing a tough three-set match, or just the stress and stiffness of working a 9 to 5.

Recovery as a category is one of the most overlooked practices for the tennis athlete that contribute not only to a happy and healthy life, both physically and mentally, but also to longevity and injury prevention which can plague even the most physically fit among us.

However, with so many massage gun products on the market — and with more coming out every day — it can be confusing to determine which devices and what types of treatment will provide the most benefit and support your specific recovery goals.

It’s important to have as much information as possible when deciding what tools to use in your routine. We’ll take a look at percussive therapy massage guns compared to vibration therapy massage guns and break down the science to show you why percussive therapy massage gun devices are more effective and more beneficial to your recovery.

What is vibration therapy?
Vibration therapy is the application of vibration by a device to either the whole body or a localized part. For whole-body vibration therapy, the user typically stands on a platform device that vibrates. In localized therapy, a hand-held device sends vibrations through the area of the body in need of treatment. Vibration therapy massage guns make contact with the skin and feels good on the surface of the body, creating a “global” experience as opposed to the more targeted treatment percussive therapy delivers. Benefits of vibration therapy can include alleviating stress and a moderate increase in blood flow.

Vibration therapy stimulates the muscles, causing them to contract and relax involuntarily. Vibration therapy can soothe the body from some pain and be a generally pleasant experience while providing some massage-like benefits to the user. The primary function is the contraction and release of muscles, which uses the body’s biomechanics to produce results.

What is percussive therapy?
Percussive therapy functions similarly to vibration therapy in that it applies force to the body part being treated. One significant difference between the two is that percussive therapy reaches 60-percent deeper into the muscle than consumer-grade vibration massagers, producing deeper massage-like benefits. Percussive therapy targets treatment areas by reaching deep enough into the muscle to increase the amount of blood flow and oxygen needed for efficient treatment and recovery. Also, because percussive therapy devices touch the body and come off of it multiple times per second, the brain does not acclimate to the stimulation, making the therapy more effective. Think of it as the difference between Swedish massage and a targeted deep-tissue massage.

In this growing and crowded space, it’s important to know that not all devices are created equally. Specifically, in order to achieve true percussive therapy, devices must have:

  • Amplitude (depth)
    — 16 mm amplitudes allow devices to treat deep within the muscle to release tension.
  • Frequency (speed)
    — 2,400 percussion per minute (40 per second) speed allows devices to override the pain signals to your brain, making the treatment experience more comfortable than manual muscle therapy.
  • Torque (no-stall force)
    — Devices that can withstand up to an additional 60 pounds of applied pressure — without stalling — so you can most effectively treat the areas that need it without degradation in either amplitude or frequency.

Why is percussive therapy important?
To start with, we as tennis players are some of the best athletes in the world. A single session of tennis works out every major muscle group, delivering one of the best full-body workouts of any sport in the world. So, in order to both perform at our best as well as recover from the demands tennis puts on our bodies, we utilize percussive therapy and reap all of the benefits that it provides, such as:

Pre-match benefits:

  • Activating key muscle groups and improving range of motion and flexibility
  • Increasing blood flow and improving energy levels

During match benefits:

  • Decreasing lactic acid to reduce muscle fatigue
  • Prevent tightening of muscles and help avoid injury

Post-match benefits:

  • Decreasing muscle soreness and stiffness, particularly post-activity
  • Hydrating soft tissue deep into the muscle
  • Reducing pain in deep-tissue recovery.

With so many different options and choices available today, it’s important to know how your massage device works so you can treat your recovery the same as you treat your training. But without question as tennis players, every single one of us stands to benefit when we ensure that recovery in all its forms plays a central role in our daily routines.

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