Foam roller vs Theragun: what are the differences?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced fitness enthusiasts to train at home more often, which has created an interesting …

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced fitness enthusiasts to train at home more often, which has created an interesting corollary: home recovery from those workouts.

With access to sports massages, hot tubs, saunas and physical therapy also being limited by the pandemic, athletes have found both new and old ways to tend to have sore muscles, sore joints. and other consequences of difficult training.

A relatively new tool is a massage gun. There are many brands including TimTam, Hyperice, Achedaway, and others, but one of the most popular is Theragun. Massage guns are similar to an older tool, the foam roller. Both are designed to provide what types of sports medicine call auto-myofascial release, or ABM. It helps overworked muscles to recover and heal.

Here’s how the two tools work.

[Read: Therapeutic Massage Guns: Should You Get One?]

What is a massage gun?

A massage gun is an SMR workout recovery tool that uses an electric or battery powered handheld device to deliver high frequency, impactful massage therapy to the skin to target sore muscle groups.

As such, it is used to treat and relieve muscle pain, stiffness, and inflammation, and to increase range of motion. Massage guns like Theragun “have flooded the health care industry, for good reason – people tend to feel better after using it,” says Kevin Aguinaldo, doctor of physiotherapy with ProSport Physical Therapy and Performance in Southern California. “Making people feel better is the first step in preparing someone for an activity. “

Aguinaldo adds that technology has improved in recent years to make massage guns more user-friendly. “Before this new wave of massage tools, massage guns were bulky, noisy, and tethered to a power source,” he says.

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller allows the user to use their own body weight to actively “deploy” sore muscle groups, again for the purpose of treating and relieving muscle pain, stiffness and inflammation, as well as increase range of motion.

Foam rollers have been around longer than massage guns, and they’ve also enjoyed increased attention (and sales) thanks to the pandemic. “Why didn’t he fall off the gadget train?” People tend to feel better after using it, ”Aguinaldo explains.


A generic foam roller and a brand name therapy device like Theragun are treatment modalities based on the principles of myofascial release. “Target both muscles and fascia with the goal of relieving pain and pain, as well as reducing tightness and increasing flexibility,” says Dr. James Ting, athletic physician at the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Southern California and Los Angeles Chargers NFL team medical staff. “The mechanical pressure exerted by these devices on nerve pain receptors in muscles is believed to modulate and ultimately reduce pain perception in the target area.”

They also improve the removal of lactic acid and other byproducts of muscle exertion and improve blood flow to speed up the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles, thereby reducing inflammation and promoting muscle breakdown. recovery.

“It is believed that additional benefits are possible due to the stimulation of nerve receptors in the targeted area which ultimately induces muscle relaxation, which then allows access to a greater range of motion,” adds Ting. “It is important to note, however, that research on the efficacy and benefits derived from these modalities is still, on the whole, limited.”

[See: Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise.]


Although both treatment tools focus on myofascial release, they differ both in how they target the affected area and 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, while a Theragun uses motorized percussion massage therapy for more targeted treatment of specific areas and muscle groups.” , explains Ting.

They also differ in how and where you can use them. “Foam rollers require a defined floor space where you can lie down and use your body weight and position yourself to mobilize and massage certain muscle groups. The massage guns require less space, easier positioning of the body and allow more creativity in the application ”, explains Aguinaldo.

Are there any dangers?

Ting advises caution to people attempting to self-treat an injury or an area that has not yet been formally assessed by a physician or licensed physiotherapist. In addition, “people with underlying health conditions that could potentially lead to injury from aggressive myofascial treatments or deep massage therapy, such as osteoporosis or varicose veins in the intended treatment area,” should be careful and ask for an evaluation before proceeding with the use of these devices. . Pregnant people should also consult their doctor before using these devices, ”he says.

Those with bone fractures, blood clotting issues, sensory deficits, or wounds should not use these tools, Aguinaldo says.

Overuse can also cause problems. “The foam roller or the massage gun can be irritating if used too often or for too long,” says Aguinaldo. Use them in moderation and remember to alternate between each tool to avoid overuse.

Beyond these precautions, “Most people will benefit from using a foam roller or massage gun before or after activity,” says Aguinaldo. He also reminds people: “We have to remember that this is a small piece of the big puzzle of helping people feel better and participate in meaningful activities. Other recovery tools include rest, stretching, rehydration, and good nutrition. An injury beyond typical muscle pain and fatigue – such as pain and immobility – requires medical attention.

[READ: Muscle Recovery After Workouts.]

How do you choose?

Ting says a foam roller may be more beneficial for those targeting a larger area of ​​the body and for those looking for a milder treatment modality. A massage gun may be more useful for targeting smaller and harder to reach muscle groups or areas, “or for those looking for a deeper or more intense massage.”

Cost can also be a factor. “A basic foam roller can cost you anywhere from $ 15 to $ 20, while massage guns can range from $ 150 to $ 400,” says Aguinaldo.

Finally, Aguinaldo emphasizes that everyone is different and reacts differently to different therapeutic tools. “Sample each tool and see which one works best for you and your specific situation. Seek a physiotherapist or health specialist for advice or if symptoms get worse, ”he says.

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Foam roller vs Theragun: what are the differences? originally appeared on

Update 11/18/21: This story was posted on an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Lee J. Murillo