In an ideal world, you'd go to the spa once a week for a sports massage. In this world, however, you're more likely to rely on workout recovery tools like foam rollers and massage guns to help loosen up your tight muscles and relieve muscle pain.
But what exactly is the difference between a massage gun and a foam roller? Is one superior to the other?
Understanding how massage guns and foam rollers work requires knowledge of fascia and myofascial release.
Your muscles are surrounded and supported by fascia, a connective tissue that wraps around and supports all the structures in your body, including your muscles. When the fascia becomes rigid or tight, it can obstruct hydration, blood flow, circulation, and the delivery of essential nutrients, resulting in muscle pain, tension, stiffness, and a limited range of motion.
What's the use of Foam Rollers?
A self-myofascial release (SMR) tool like the foam roller can help. These are cylindrical tubes made of dense, often textured foam that can actively break up muscle and fascia tightness. The pressure exerted by foam rollers has the potential to break up fascial stagnation, reduce adhesions, and break down scar tissue. In addition, rolling draws blood to the foam-rolled tissues, resulting in fascial hydration and tissue stiffness relief.
What about Massage Guns?
Massage guns are another type of SMR that can help loosen adhesions in fascia and muscle tissue, though the mechanisms are different.
Massage guns use percussive therapy and vibration massage. Percussive therapy is a type of soft tissue manipulation that can help reduce soreness and pain while assisting with muscle recovery. Massage guns apply short bursts of pressure to the muscles at a high frequency, similar to how a jackhammer works. This action produces a short-term pain relief effect by stimulating the tissues through rapid percussion, increasing blood flow, and assisting with removing post-training metabolites. The most well-studied benefits of massage guns are muscle recovery and mobility.
Both foam rollers and massage guns are valuable recovery tools. However, foam rollers are better for a lighter touch and larger muscle groups, whereas massage guns can target muscles and smaller areas with a deeper massage. This makes them more useful for specific pain points.
Everything else is secondary to consistency.
Consistent use over time is the best way to positively impact your tissues long-term. It takes about two years for fascial tissue and collagen to regenerate fully—make it a part of your routine.