The recovery tool that’s taking the sports world by storm looks like an electric drill.
It works like one, too. Press the button and it whirs to life, but instead of driving a screw into a piece of lumber, it drives a high-density foam attachment into your hamstring.
Meet the TheraGun:
Who’s using it? Seemingly everyone. I first encountered the TheraGun at Proactive Sports Performance—where pro athletes like Aaron Rodgers and Paul George train during the offseason—while STACK was capturing content for our 2017 Path to the Pros series. I haven’t stopped seeing it since.
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Deshaun Watson uses it:
So does Alex Gordon:
Julio Jones, too (and during the Super Bowl, no less):
Dustin Johnson loves his:
Lorenzo Alexander said the entire AFC squad at this year’s Pro Bowl wanted to steal his TheraGun:
There’s no doubt the TheraGun is catching on with elite athletes, but what makes it different? Getting athletes to buy into recovery tools can be notoriously difficult, but it seems like players actually like using the TheraGun.
According to the company’s website, the product is “a lightweight, battery-operated, easy-to-use muscle treatment device specifically created for sports trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors and doctors as a more effective way to heal their patients. Additionally, athletes can use it on themselves.”
The TheraGun was created by Dr. Jason Wersland, a sports chiropractic physician, who was inspired to create the TheraGun after he was injured in a motorcycle accident. The incident helped him see the need for a highly mobile form of muscle therapy. After eight years of development, Wersland debuted the TheraGun. “The TheraGun was engineered to effectively treat sore, lactic-acid filled muscles and other muscle-related conditions,” Wersland says.
The TheraGun’s design is quite novel. The product uses a percussion vibration system not unlike a jackhammer. One of two high-density foam attachments (also known as AmpBITs) are attached to a rod inside the machine and locked into place. Once the safety is off and the trigger is pulled, the AmpBIT rapidly moves up and down. It looks pretty heavy duty, and it does pack a punch. However, the frequency of the vibrations are specifically designed to override the body’s natural pain signals, allowing for a deeper massage.
The company explains the technology on their website:
“Studies on chronic pain have showed that deep brain stimulation at frequencies of approximately 50 Hz can produce analgesic effects. The TheraGun’s reciprocating motion runs at a higher frequency (60-65 Hz) than chronic pain (5-50Hz) with an amplitude of ½ inch. The nervous system’s hierarchy is programmed to pay attention to the higher frequency stimulus over the pain stimulus. This is important because the TheraGun’s vibration and amplitude on the body send signals to the brain faster than pain signals can travel. This high frequency vibration actually overrides pain signals. Therefore, for a period of time, pain is significantly decreased.”
It’s pretty wild stuff, but the science behind the TheraGun is sound, and it doesn’t have a reputation as a particularly painful instrument. The override phenomenon allows the TheraGun to work on the muscle with pressure that’s deeper than most people’s natural pain tolerance would allow.
This type of deep vibration therapy causes muscles to rapidly contract and relax and greatly improves blood flow to allow more oxygenated blood to flow to the muscles, helping them flush out waste and deoxygenated blood and take in nourishments and nutrients quicker and more efficiently. The result is decreased lactic acid and faster recovery.
Deep massage is also great for targeting abnormalities deep inside muscles and fascia. Fascia is a white membrane located under the skin that wraps and connects the muscles, bones, blood vessels and nerves of the body. Ordinarily, joints and organs have slippery surfaces so they can move around each other smoothly. But sometimes the muscles and fascia aren’t stretched out enough and they become stuck together or torn. This results in soft tissue adhesions and injuries. Such issues cause restricted muscle movement, reduced flexibility and increased soreness. The TheraGun can break apart these soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue, improving mobility and reducing pain.
The TheraGun gets deeper than many other soft tissue massage instruments, but the product’s biggest selling point might be its simplicity.
How many athletes know how to properly set up and use a stim machine on themselves? Not many. And for those who do, fitting the process into a busy schedule can be super inconvenient. But with the TheraGun, it’s as simple as aim and shoot. Its totally wireless operation allows the TheraGun to travel anywhere and be seamlessly integrated into any training routine.
The product itself weighs less than 3 pounds, easily fitting into a backpack or gym bag. A full charge lasts about 20 minutes of continuous usage, and the battery recharges to 75 percent in 15 minutes and to 100 percent in 30 minutes.
The TheraGun can be used before, during or after exercise. Ryan Capretta, owner of Proactive, says his athletes often use it prior to warming up. The result is a much crisper warm-up, which leads to a better overall workout. “The feedback from our athletes is that they warm up a lot quicker. We typically have them use the TheraGun before our warm-up, and their warm-up is a lot smoother. As a coach, we love that,” Capretta says.
Athletes at Proactive also use the TheraGun throughout their workout. For example, players grab a TheraGun and hit their pecs between sets of heavy Bench Press. That level of convenience allows an athlete to get positive results without a huge time commitment. “The nice part is that it’s the first tool we’ve seen that’s cordless. We can do it anywhere, use it on the field, use it in the weight room—any environment you see fit,” Capretta says.
Here you can see track and field athletes Lisa and Miki Barber demonstrating how to self-use the TheraGun on the piriformis and hamstrings:
In terms of restrictions, there aren’t many wrong ways to use the TheraGun. Dr. Wersland recommends limiting sessions to a maximum of 15 continuous minutes and to avoid boney structures. Users should be at least 8 years old, and the TheraGun should never be used on open wounds, genital areas, the head or any metal implants.
If you’re interested in learning more about this interesting tool, head over to TheraGun’s website.