The Truth about Massage Tools

The Truth about Massage Tools

Do you need a high-powered gadget in your recovery arsenal?

After a good, long workout comes the need to recover. And anyone who’s been properly stretched out by their trainer after a particularly tough session knows that unique, ‘hurts so good’ feeling. Well, there’s now a slew of tools promising to give you both the sensation and the benefits of a sports massage, just with the flick of a switch. But which ones are best for your needs? And which ones are worth the money? With such a crush of products promising relief, it’s hard to know where the science ends and the wellness spin begins. After all, some studies suggest that vibration therapy can reduce or even prevent muscle soreness while others say simple stretching yields the same results. We chatted up some experts for the truth and a few suggestions on which ones would be worth your money.

Foam Rolling

One of the simplest tools is also the most versatile, says Chris Kolba, a physical therapist at Ohio State University. “While it has the ability to increase performance, foam rolling can also be used to relieve and reduce tension caused by daily stresses,” he says. “Studies have shown that rolling out your muscles does decrease tissue tension and can improve your range of movement, increasing your speed and flexibility.” Rolling is most effective when it’s utilized on a consistent basis. Kolba says you can actually roll out before exercising to reduce muscle tension and increase blood flow. Then, of course, after a workout to limit the amount of muscle soreness and stiffness.

Morph Bravo collapsible foam roller, $69.95 by Brazen  

Massage Guns

Early massage guns started out more like vibration therapy, but the most popular recent models go beyond vibration, often penetrating an inch or more below the skin and into the target muscle like a jackhammer, says massage therapist Art San, who works with MMA fighters and NFL players. “A little goes a long way,” he warns. “You don’t want to over-stimulate the muscle.” Deep tissue massage, which is what these guns essentially offer, loosens the muscle tissue, increasing blood flow to it and relieving tightness. But excessive use drives fluid into the muscle without allowing it to flow out again. So it’s not a tool that should be used everyday but rather on an as-needed basis.

Theragun PRO, $599 by Therabody

Cold Relief

Because it’s not practical to have a cryo-chamber in your house, this handheld rollerball massager aims to deliver similar cryotherapeutic benefits, alongside the myofascial release of a lacrosse ball or foam roller. It’s like an ice pack, super-charged and intensified. Founder Matt Hyder invented the prototype back in college, when struggling to find something to relieve his pain after a basketball injury. The business took off after the San Francisco 49ers discovered the rollers and purchased a bunch for the team in 2018. The hard exterior of the Cryosphere provides deep-muscle relief, while the icy cryotherapy diverts blood flow to ease inflammation and turn off nerve receptors—at least temporarily.

Cryosphere Cold Massage Roller, $49.99 by Recoup Fitness

Compression Boots

All sorts of athletes have been laying back in puffy, spacesuit-ish contraptions to reap the benefits of compression therapy. Because your legs are below your heart, it’s harder to pump waste from your legs to your lymph system, explains Kathleen Leninger, a physical therapist at Custom Performance. These compression boots help increase blood flow to specific areas, which naturally helps circulate that waste to get rid of it faster. You’ll deliver nutrients to your muscles while getting rid of the bad stuff like lactic acid. These provide you active recovery while you passively sit and relax. Do you need them? Probably not. But if you constantly find yourself going hard enough in your workouts to require regular massages, then these might eventually pay for themselves.

Pulse 2.0 Leg Recovery System, $995 by NormaTec
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