As a distance running fan and avid cyclist, having sore legs is nothing new. Even though every trainer, coach, and running book says that foam rolling helps, it simply is not something that is going to become part of a daily habit. Foam rolling sucks, it is the worst. At best it is a painful 10 minutes with limited immediate relief and questionable long term benefits.
Enter deep tissue massages. These things became popular a few years ago as the motor technology got better and manufacturers started develop quieter handheld devices that could deliver a punch (pun intended).
One of the leaders in the game is TheraGun, who produces a seriously high end and costly device. There is nothing proprietary about the high end manufacturers that really matter though and there are loads of other options available for a fraction of the cost. Personally we choose a lower cost version of this available on Amazon and in comparing it directly to a borrowed Theragun found no difference in the feeling of the resulting massage. The one area where Theragun did have a slight advantage was in the sound produced by the device, although both of them were quiet enough not to be too much of an issue.
Foam Roller vs Percussion Massager for Runners
As we mentioned before, nearly every training plan for runners suggests that stretching and foam roller should be added into a routine. Some folks simply are not going to become foam rollers though, for a variety of reasons. Even so, there is some benefit to having this a massage when it comes to avoiding long term muscle soreness.
Back in 2014 a study was published showing similar levels of benefit from a percussion massager to traditional massage for reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This suggests that it does not matter what device or type of massage you get, and the best type is the one that you can work into your regular routine.
From a cost standpoint it is hard to argue which one is more economical. Percussion massagers can run into the hundreds of dollars or be picked up for around $50. Foam rollers can be picked up for under $20, and in a pinch there are plenty of stand in items that work to roll out knots without being a dedicated item. What to use if you don’t have a foam roller or want to drop $20. Here is a list of 8 around the house items that can work in place of a foam roller include:
- Soccer ball
- Rolling Pin
- Water Bottle (a full one that is frozen works great)
- Baseball or Softball Bat
- Broom Handle (or other detachable handle)
- Paint Roller
- Tennis balls (good for foot rolling the bottom of feet, back or other softer areas)
- Baseball, Softball (good for tougher muscles, calves etc)
Each of these devices has its benefits and drawbacks, so the best one will depend on what muscle you are trying to work out. One of the benefits of a percussion massager are the attachments that are available for them. The m3 Pro, and most other off-brand devices comes with half a dozen attachments.
The go-to attachment for a massager gun is the simple hard foam ball. This makes it easy to walk the massager down a muscle and get a similar result to foam rolling. Other devices may again be better depending if you are trying to work out a tight quad or a tight shoulder blade.
When Should You Use A Percussion Massager?
One important thing to remember is that both foam rolling and percussion massagers are not a panacea for everything. The biggest thing to consider is when NOT to use either one. This boils down to a handful of recommendations, but primarily can be described as “when it hurts”. Some amount of discomfort is often associated with foam rolling but if there is true pain there is a chance it is a real injury and there is no reason to be percussion massaging an injury.
The other thing to avoid when using a percussion massaged are bones, organs, or small muscle. A simple percussion massager is designed for working through big muscles, and trying to point it at anything else is just going to wind up with unpleasantness. Again, this goes back to avoiding things that cause pain.
Is A Percussion Massager Worth It For Runners?
The short answer to this is, Yes. Percussion massagers or massager guns can be a great addition to a runners arsenal of gear. There is minimal reason to go for one of the high end devices though, and a quick search of Amazon turns up a handful of devices that are less than $50. This makes them even cheaper than getting a new pair of shoes, and about the same cost as a single visit to a physical therapist.
A big advantage of having one of these on hand is how easy they are to use. Since they are easy to pack and travel with, and easy to operate, it is likely that you will wind up using a massage gun more than a foam roller. This is when the value really pays off. A $20 foam roller that never gets used is a waste when compared to a $50 device that can improve your wellness with just 3-5 minutes of use before and after a run.