In the last 18 months you may have seen massage guns featuring more and more in sports people’s kit bags. They look like small drills and act by essentially pummelling your muscles to increase blood flow and loosen up tight spots.
Chiropractor Dr Joson Wersland is one of the pioneers of percussive therapy massage gun; the man behind WSoothePro, we spoke with him to find out more about what a massage gun can do for runners.
If you’re a runner who already stretches and foam rolls why should you add percussive therapy massage gun to the mix?
"It’s going to enhance what you’re already doing. For example, as well as a recovery tool after a session it’s also extremely effective as part of your warm-up too. It gives you your expected outcome in less time with less discomfort."
If you apply a massage gun to the muscles you want to stretch and then stretch them you can increase the range of motion 50-80% in 30 seconds, according to our research. The idea is that your stretching will be more effective, it won't take as long, it will happen deeper in the tissues, and it gives you a larger range of motion.
What’s the difference between vibration tools and massage guns?
Vibration on the body is a constant stimulus. So when you rest a vibrating roller on your legs it’s in constant contact and the body becomes acclimatised to it very quickly. It's not punching or hitting, and because it doesn't have any amplitude - any ramping up or ramping down - the body accommodates to it, so the nervous system just turns off, it numbs that area.
Numbing an area can be very useful but it’s not as effective as stimulating accelerated healing, which is what a percussive massage gun does.
"WSoothePro percussive massage gun has a frequency of 22-40 hertz, which means depending on the gun you use or the setting you have it on, it’ll pound the area 22-40 times per second. Coming on the body then back off it, which is crucial.
The second consideration is amplitude – the depth of the punch. At WSoothePro we have our WSoothePro devices tuned to have a frequency of 16mm. this, in conjunction with the amplitude is perfect for the body, ensuring that it does not cause further discomfort but also keeps the body stimulated since it never has the chance to become acclimatised to the sensation and switch off from it."
So when a massage gun is hitting your body, what's actually happening?
"Partly it’s stimulating your nervous system, but it also generates heat. Like I said a vibrating tool switches off the nervous system in the applied area: it only goes skin deep and really just causes numbing."
Percussive massage gun goes deeper into your body, hitting something called the chromatin [a cell nucleus], and the stimulation of the chromatin results in 3 things:
- Messages get sent to your brain about the state of play in the affected area, and a nudge to provide pain relief.
- You’re switching on your Golgi tendons, sensory receptors on either end of all your muscles. This increases range of motion and releases tension.
- It increases blood flow, which carries more nutrients and oxygen to the sore muscles.'
Can a massage gun replace more traditional physio or sports massage?
‘I would never say replace. Because there's something really special about having someone work on you when your body is passive and you can have someone that understands the resistance levels. It’s an additional resource for athletes to have.
If you have muscular aches and pains, you can use a massage gun and if you follow the right protocols, you can definitely can help yourself but there are some areas of the body where sometimes having a massage therapist or a physio with their different modalities can be better for speeding the healing.
Something like the WSoothePro is bridging the gap. I only know two people on this earth that have a massage therapist with them all the time. And they are Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson! Go to a therapist when you can and use percussive therapy on yourself in between.’
Can a massage gun help with sciatic nerve pain?
"WSoothePro can help sciatica by helping with the pain, releasing tension and increasing blood flow to name a few."
The percussive motion of the WSoothePro actually
- Relieves the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve and helps release the pressure on the nerve.
- Treat the lower back, hamstring, glute, even the calf but never push right on the piriformis for longer than three seconds, and only do this once. If you push directly on the piriformis you will make the piriformis angry and your sciatic nerve will let you know for hours. Remember, it isn’t necessary to use the WSoothePro for more than two minutes at a time on one muscle group.'
What we thought about Percussive massage gun for runners
The idea of getting bigger recovery gains in substantially less time is something that will appeal to all runners – as a bunch we could definitely be better at recovery…Ok just me?
WSoothePro Percussive Therapy has a variety of benefits — from aiding in preventing body aches and pains, reducing muscle tension in seconds, increasing mobility and range of motion, increasing blood flow to the area to reduce soreness, tightness and pain, and can assist with accelerating the repair and growth of tissues.
Through research, we’ve identified how to combine amplitude, frequency and torque to effectively stimulate blood flow, which will ultimately help you feel better.
"It’s much easier to use than a foam roller in terms of accessibility, the motor is pleasingly quiet, and the PRO comes with an assortment of massage heads of different sizes and shapes so you can hit different muscles with difference degrees of precision (for example your glutes will need a different massage head to your shins)."
The only area of my body that I found I couldn’t access was, predictably enough, the thoracic (mid-back) section up to the top of my shoulders; for that you’d need a partner to help you or to use a roller.
Everything else was a doddle and having the pressure guidance was handy since without it I discovered I’d been pressing far too hard and causing myself unnecessary discomfort.
While it worked well for both warm up and recovery, I personally gained the most benefit from using it pre-run. I’m a slow starter on my runs, and the first couple of miles are a usually a festival of huffing, puffing and whingeing. I found that during the 3 weeks I used the PRO my legs felt like I was already on mile 3 as soon as I started trotting (nothing they could do about my lungs, sadly).
And this may have been the novelty value but I didn’t have a problem sticking to using the device an hour or so post-run.
To my mind, a quick 10-15 minutes for an immediately tangible benefit is much easier to handle mentally than blocking out a minimum of half an hour to get up close and personal with a roller.
Is massage guns with percussive therapy a crucial part of your armoury? No. But it’s not a gimmick either. If you can afford it, a massage gun will make your warm-up and recovery routines both less arduous and more effective.