What is percussive therapy and how can it help runners?
Originally written by Kerry Mccarthy for runnersworld.com on 20 July, 2020.
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 Jason Wersland is one of the pioneers of percussive therapy; the man behind Theragun, 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 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.’
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 therapy 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.'
What we thought
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?
Theragun (recently rebranded as Therabody) has a range of devices. I tested the Elite model. It connects to a well-designed app which has numerous pre-set routines for you to follow depending on the muscle group(s) you’re targeting, along with guidance on how to use the gun in terms of where to place it, how long for and with how much pressure.
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