By Ning Chao
Shooting yourself in the foot sounds like a career-crushing move for any athlete. But sitting on the sidelines of a game, pros are actually preventing and treating injuries by holding what looks like a pulsating gun to their quads, calves, and even the bottom of their shoes.
Handheld percussion devices—nicknamed “massage guns” because of their striking shape and appearance—are soaring in popularity to soothe pain and jump-start muscle recovery. A distant cousin to gadgets previously on the market, these massage guns use a pounding motion to mimic deep-tissue massage with vibration.
“Percussive therapy is a deeper, more effective mode of recovery and body activation than vibration,” explains Los Angeles–based chiropractor Jason Wersland, who invented Theragun, the first device of its kind, over a decade ago. Designed to rapidly apply pressure (then release), these therapeutic devices boost blood flow, stimulate wound healing, lower inflammation, and reduce pain. Multiple attachments change the massage head to better target and treat different areas of the body. The latest models are stronger, quieter, lighter, and less expensive, giving you the most bang for your buck.
For athletes (more power for denser muscle tissue): Hypervolt 2 Pro, $399
For everybody: Hypervolt Go, $199; Hypervolt, $249; Hypervolt 2, $299; Hypervolt Plus, $329; hyperice.com
Founded by amateur basketball player Anthony Katz, Irvine-based Hyperice started with cold compression therapy (developed with Kobe Bryant), then launched its first Hypervolt portable percussion device in 2018. With LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes, Lindsey Vonn, and Naomi Osaka on board as both investors and collaborators, Hypervolt is the device you’re most likely to see courtside, since it partners with the NFL, NBA, and MLB.
New this fall, the Hypervolt 2 Pro is the only massage gun on the market that’s powered by the same battery type used for electric cars. This translates to more power and a longer life per charge, perfect for a little extra TLC whether you’re on a business trip or at an away game.
For athletes: Theragun PRO, $599
For everybody: Theragun mini, $199; Theragun Prime, $299; Theragun Elite, $399; therabody.com
The gold standard of handheld percussive-therapy devices, Theragun was developed by Wersland to treat his own debilitating back pain after an injury. The patented triangle design is both eye-catching and ergonomic, allowing for different grips to target more hard-to-reach spots—all while eliminating wrist fatigue. “It doesn’t make sense to put strain on one part of your body while trying to make another part feel better,” says Wersland.
PRO, Elite, and Prime are the newest Theraguns, offering Bluetooth connectivity through the Therabody app to guide your device through programs for everything from better sleep, tech neck therapy, and gaming recovery to surfing warm-up or jet lag therapy. “Debilitating pain can lead to depression … and anxiety can lead to muscle tension,” says Wersland, who is currently researching Theragun’s effects on mental and emotional health. Hoping to engineer treatment programs for PTSD, anxiety, and depression, Wersland points to full-body recovery as the future of percussive devices. “If we can take care of ourselves physically, we can perhaps ease many of the burdens that come with mental health issues.”