There are two specific video genres that I can't stop watching on Instagram right now: time-lapse videos of people power washing driveways, and videos of people getting massaged by a vibrating device. Both are very relaxing and help me unwind, but the massage videos are something else. You can almost feel the knots in people's backs or thighs dissolve as the massager delivers the rapid-fire pulses. It looks like it hurts a little bit, but in a good way — these videos are like the Dr. Pimple Popper of the fitness world.
The massage device I'm referring to is called the TheraGun G2PRO. Shaped like an electric drill, the TheraGun is designed to deliver a "percussive action" very quickly to your muscles, says Jason Wesland, the founder and inventor of the TheraGun. Like other forms of self-myofascial release, the TheraGun G2PRO is intended to decrease post-workout muscle and joint soreness by increasing blood flow to your muscles and breaking down scar tissue, he says. In other words, it helps massage your muscles so you're in less pain after a workout.
TheraGun G2PRO isn't the first vibrating muscle-recovery tool to get big on Instagram; Hyperice and Triggerpoint are two companies that offer vibrating foam rollers, balls, and devices, and they have been around for a while. But these tools can be pretty pricey, because they're considered "professional-grade products," and the TheraGun G2PRO is a whopping $599 to purchase. So, are vibrating rollers or handheld tools really worth it or are they an overpriced social media gimmick?
Experts seem to be into the vibration trend, but there is a catch. Vibration is a pretty new concept, so the jury is out on whether vibrating foam rollers are significantly better than the usual foam rollers, says Polly de Mille, RN, MA, RCEP, CSCS, USAT, an exercise physiologist at Hospital for Special Surgery. There hasn't been a ton of research on the topic, although a few studies show similar gains in flexibility when using the vibrating foam roller, she says. The pressure of a foam roller seems to release areas of tissue that may be "stuck," and vibration is believed to increase this tissue release, she says.
Additionally, using a vibrating tool (like the TheraGun G2PRO) might allow you to target areas where you may feel pain but can't reach using a regular foam roller, says Armin Tehrany, MD, a board-certified orthopedic doctor and surgeon, and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care. "This does not mean that a vibrating foam roller is more effective than a regular foam roller, it simply means that using vibration as a tool to stretch your muscles is an added bonus on top of the benefits that a regular foam roller already provides," he says.
There don't seem to be any dangers or downsides to vibrating foam rollers or tools if they're used correctly, de Mille says. "Vibration tools should not be used over bony parts of the body, over organs, above the shoulders (avoid the neck), or over sores, wounds, or sunburned skin," she says. Pregnant people should check with their Ob/Gyn before using it, too, she says. Otherwise, Wesland says he's used the TheraGun G2PRO on 72 year olds, and they love it.
So, vibrating foam rollers and tools are probably legit, but definitely look intense and sound like a jackhammer. The videos make it seem like the TheraGun G2PRO tool hurts, but according to Wesland, the vibration helps prevent pain. "The G2PRO overrides the pain and is much easier to use and apply than foam rolling," he says. "Oh, and it feels amazing."
TL;DR: "Vibration tools are becoming more commonly used by fitness professionals, athletic trainers, and physical therapists because they appear to be equally, if not more, effective as the usual myofascial release tools when used appropriately," de Mille says. If you have access to a vibrating foam roller at your gym or physical therapy office, then give it a whirl and see if you like it. "If you have a limited budget, you will get plenty of benefits using the more cost-effective choice of a traditional foam roller," she says. And, hey, you could always just watch the videos and see if that relaxes you, too.