Review: Percussive Therapy Is the Rare Fitness Innovation That Actually Works

That's a Theragun. It'll fix your back.

The Theragun, a popular percussive therapy tool
The Theragun, a popular percussive therapy tool

If you’ve gone down an Instagram rabbithole in the past few months, there’s a solid chance you’ve stumbled upon a video of someone doing something like this:

No, the lady above isn’t attacking her back with an egg beater. She’s massaging it with the Theragun G3PRO, a portable, electronic, “percussive” device that delivers up to 60 lbs. of force at 40 percussions per second.

And it works.

The Theragun is the rare reputable fitness tool in social media’s Wild West of shady products. At first glance, it’s tempting to compare to other viral fitness companies, e.g., PremFit, a brand that makes “muscle stimulators.” PremFit pays influencers to place their electroshock gel pads on their abs and rumps and pretend they’ve achieved their physiques by sitting around electrocuting themselves. Electro muscle stimulation is a real thing, but it’s dangerous, too, and can lead to burns and bruising when attempted without regulated equipment. Unsurprisingly, PremFit’s technology is not approved by the FDA.

When I first came across the Theragun and its less-expensive competitor, the Hyperice Hypervolt, I assumed it was more useless and harmful crap being touted by folks looking for a buck. Then I poked around a bit. The machine retails for $600, a lofty number that gave it some sense of legitimacy. I also found a video of Kyrie Irving getting treatment with it during the 2017 NBA Finals (he averaged 29.4 points per game, so it couldn’t have hurt). I learned the contraption was invented by a chiropractor named Dr. Jason Wersland, who was searching for relief in the years after a bad motorcycle accident. And I dug into the meaning of the remedy that both these products promise: percussive therapy.

Percussive therapy is a method of inducing blood flow in a rapid manner to soft tissue in muscles, tendons and ligaments throughout the body. With a series of concentrated pulses on one particular spot, it can relax local connective tissue, ease areas long haunted by scars or surgery, and increase the flow of infection-fighting white blood cells. It also elongates muscle fibers while providing relief on joints … which is your basic elevator pitch for stretching.

Obviously, percussive massages are nothing new. The Swedish technique of tapotement is a favorite in massage parlors, whereby the masseuse beats, slaps or hacks the back with the edge of his or her hand. Tissue work, meanwhile, is a common recuperative practice in the gym, which can be administered by pressing deep into the muscle with a tennis or lacrosse ball. But the Theragun takes it to another level: it’s each of those methods administered through a high-powered machine, with a gearbox designed by engineers from MIT.

I’ve been testing one of these devices out for the past several weeks, and am here to confirm that the Theragun works. It jumpstarts my muscles when used 30 seconds just before a workout and delivers 15-minute total-body massages at the end of a long day, providing a satisfying heated sensation as blood rushes into targeted areas. Despite being on the good side of 25 and working out five times a week, I regularly feel my back lock up. It’s an unfortunate — albeit predictable — result of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day and staring at a 17″ screen. But if I devote a few minutes each night to the muscles around my lumbar spine, or to my quads, hammies, shoulders and neck … I wake up without pain or stiffness. And I get a better (and safer) workout the next morning because of it.

As for logistics: the Theragun has two speeds. Fast, and faster. We recommend cruising at fast, unless you really have a pain to address. (When developing the prototype, Dr. Wersland realized the faster the rhythmic percussion, the more effectively pain was handled.) The Theragun also comes with a variety of shaped head attachments, from balls to cones, which along with its ergonomic handle will make sure there isn’t a crevice too difficult for you to push against. I’d say the cut off for “reachable” spots is just under the shoulder blade. Your lower back is manageable, though you might want to outsource that work to a friend or your partner so you’re not twisting your body too much.

Our only caveats would be A) the noise and B) the battery life. At full throttle, the Theragun sounds like a leaf blower and a lawn mower going at it in the Octagon. And more often than not, it dies after a full session. Just be sure to explain its miraculous properties to anyone within earshot and plug it in once you’re done. Your back will thank you.

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