The Deep-Tissue Massage Tool That’s Worth Splurging on Right Now
It's cured my tech neck and saved my sleep.
Not-so-guilty confession: When my commute to work ended two months ago, so too did my workout routine. And although my Instagram feed is filled with new Peloton bikes and stylish home gym set-ups, I know I’m not alone in finding it hard to muster the energy and motivation to make exercise a priority right now. And — for anyone who needs to hear it — that’s OK.
The one habit I have kept up with, though? Using my Theragun daily. Paired with essential oils and CBD before bed, it’s the nighttime ritual — a delicious ritual, if you will — that has helped me unwind and release newfound tension in my neck and back from spending most of my waking hours hunched over a laptop.
You may think of these power-drill-like massage devices as a tool reserved for serious athletes. (And if you are working out at home, they can certainly help speed up your warm-up time and recovery). But even if you haven't worked up a sweat since quarantine began, they’re still a worthy investment in your health — on top of just feeling damn good.
“A percussion massage tool can help anyone whether they are seriously into fitness or not,” explains Grayson Wickham PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault. “Most people today are dealing with aches and pains, caused by tight muscles and tight joints and not moving enough.” Check and check.
It helps that the new generation of percussive massage tools (including a new, portable device that clocks in under $200) are not only smaller and lighter— but much more accessibly priced.
Shop now: Theragun G3 Percussive Therapy Massager; $400; revolve.com
If you've been thinking of biting the bullet, or have recently purchased your own percussive massager, here's how to use it to tackle tech neck, improve sleep, and recreate a spa massage.
What to Know Before You Get Started
For the uninitiated, the Theragun and other similar percussion massage tools (like the Hypervolt or TimTam) use something called percussive therapy to increase blood flow to the muscles to reduce soreness, while also using pressure to communicate with your nervous system. “You’re sending an input to your body, which your central nervous system interprets and then sends an output back to the muscle to relax it,” explains Wickham.
If you’re brand new to one of these devices, it can be tempting to use as much pressure as you can possibly stand. Resist the urge. “A lot of people think that going stronger and harder will break up knots in the muscles more effectively, but research shows this isn’t true,” Wickham says. “Using too much pressure will cause your body to tense up and can actually negate the positive benefits,” he adds.
He recommends starting on a slower speed setting and working up to a faster one; always add more pressure before you add more speed. A guiding principle to abide by: “Do what feels good,” Wickham says. “Hit the muscles that are sore — but don’t go to a higher speed level if you're tensing up or clenching your teeth.”
To Ease Tech Neck
Before working from home became the new norm, most of us were already plagued by tech neck, which can cause about eight different muscles in your neck and shoulders to become tight and tender, Wickham says. If, like me, you now spend your day in the least ergonomically friendly positions possible, you may be feeling the pain and tension in your neck and shoulders more than ever.
How to do it: On a slow to medium setting using light pressure, move the device from the side of your chest toward the armpit and onto the front of your shoulder for 30 seconds, says chiropractor and Theragun founder Jason Wersland, DC. Then, move the device back and forth from the base of the shoulder to the top of the shoulder for 30 seconds.
(You can also download the Therabody app for guided routines and, if you have a 4th generation device, get real-time information on speed, pressure, and grip.)
To De-Stress Before Bed
Using muscle release techniques like a percussion massage tool can also help tell your body it’s time for sleep, Wickham says. “The key is to use light pressure in order to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you relax before bed,” he says. “Heavy pressure can stimulate your nervous system causing you to be more alert.”
How to do it: “Start on your traps, then your arms, then low back, then your quads and hamstrings, then your shins, and lastly your feet,” Dr. Wersland says. (Focus on each body part for no more than 30-60 seconds.) “Practice mindfulness throughout the entire treatment by intentionally looking at the body part you’re treating or closing your eyes and imagining that body part.”
You can perform the massage technique on any area of your body that feels tight, Wickham adds. Commonly tense areas to hit include your gluteus maximus (the largest and outermost of the three gluteal muscles), your calf muscles, the pectoralis major (the front of your chest, located under the breast), and your quadriceps muscles (the front of your thighs), he says.
To take things one step further, Wickham recommends adding breathing techniques into the mix, which can also increase your parasympathetic nervous system activity to help you relax before sleep. He suggests the box breathing technique (a form of diaphragmatic breathing).
How to do it: Slowly inhale through your nose for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, exhale for five seconds, and hold your breath again for five seconds. Repeat this four-step process for at least six rounds.
To Recreate a Spa Massage
While massage devices like the Theragun or Hypervolt can’t replace actual licensed massage therapists, they can be a great complement, which is why these devices are already being integrated into sports massages and spa services.
“With the situation that we are dealing with now, people are not able to visit their massage therapist regularly — Theragun is amazing to treat yourself until we get back to normal,” Dr. Wersland says.
“The percussion massage tool can, in some ways, take the place of a regular massage if you have another person helping you reach the areas that are hard to reach by yourself,” Wickham adds.
How to do it: Lay on your stomach and have another person do a full-body sweep from your shoulders to your feet, running the device slowly down your body, spending no more than two minutes on any muscle group,” Dr. Wersland says.