When Percussion Therapy comes to mind, many people probably visualize a professional athlete who is post-workout using a Theragun. But, Percussion (or Vibration) Therapy is a pretty old therapy technique that dates back as far as the mid 1800’s! As much as this therapy lacks in scientific evidence and concrete studies, it has been used to help people around the world for countless decades and a wide range of health issues.
One problematic aspect you will read over and over again is how there are not enough studies to prove or disprove the health benefits of Percussion Therapy. With that being said, you will also frequently read that NASA continues to use Vibration Therapy on astronauts to prevent bone loss. Well, if it is good enough for NASA astronauts and professional athletes, there has to be something to it, right?
What is Percussion Therapy?
Whichever type of percussion therapy is used, the vibrations sent throughout the body cause muscles to contract and relax. The idea is that this can trigger the body to produce more osteoblasts which are the cells that produce bone. It is also supposed to increase blood flow to the area being treated, providing pain relief and increasing the range of motion, along with a slight stretch to that muscles.
Similar to electrical stimulation, percussion therapy works to interrupt the pain signals that are sent to the brain through the nerves. This is why some people are in less pain following a percussion therapy treatment.
Localized vs. Whole Body Percussion Therapy
Percussion (or Vibration) Therapy is utilized in two different ways; whole body or localized. Whole-body uses a large machine for an individual to who is getting treated to lay, sit, or stand on. This machine will then send vibrations through the entire body. In truth, it is more likely that you are familiar with localized percussion therapy. In localized percussion therapy, the therapist who is administering the therapy will use a handheld device, like a Theragun, and apply it to a specific part of the body that needs the treatment. This is clearly to target very specific muscles and tissues.
What are the different types of Percussion Therapy machines?
Different machines produce different intensities and directions of vibrations, which is believed to determine how effective the therapy is. Whether you use a Theragun, a Tim Tam, Hypervolt, a Wahl Deep Tissue Percussion Massager, or Amazon’s best seller - the Purewave, you can get a feel for whether or not this is a good therapy for you. The differences in these devices are primarily the cost, but also the types of vibration pulses they create, the intensity, direction, etc. There is little research on the effectiveness of one type of vibration and intensity versus another; but the companies that sell these devices will try to set themselves apart with these details.
As technology becomes more advanced, so do the different percussion tools. Traditional percussion tools had to be plugged into the wall and had a generator attached. This caused treatment to be fairly loud. Today’s technology allows for cordless machines that are oftentimes much quieter.
Theragun: The newest version of the Theragun, the G3PRO, has two different speeds, multiple attachments that are utilized for targeted muscle treatment, and utilizes 16mm of amplitude (allowing for deeper massage). The new design has a rotating arm allowing for self-treatment. This added feature allows you to reach 90% of your body.
Tim Tam: The Tim Tam is pretty similar to the Theragun. It has a rotating head allowing you to reach most of your body, 16mm stroke length, and a number of attachments for targeting specific muscles. The biggest difference? Price! The Tim Tam starts at $199.
Hyperice by Hypervolt: This cordless machine is known to be extremely quiet. With 3 speeds and 4 interchangeable head attachments, the Hyperice has a better battery life than the previously mentioned machines. The Hyperice starts at $349.
Wahl Deep Tissue Percussion Massager: The WAHL 4290-300 comes with 4 massage head pieces, is easy to use, can produce up to 3,350 pulses per minute (meaning it has a powerful motor) and has an 8 ft power cord. With the power cord you do not need to worry about batteries, or the battery life. It is currently available on Amazon for $33.99-$49.99.
PureWave: The PureWave has three different models - CM7, CM5, CM3. The CM7 has a dual motor and adjustable intensity, while the CM5 has adjustable intensity without a dual motor and the CM3 has no adjustable intensity. All three models are cordless, light, portable and have a speed of 3,500-3,700 RPM and has about a 7 hour battery life. They do come with a limited amount of attachments.
What are the risks of percussion therapy?
Like most treatments out there, there are risks to vibration therapy. If the person administering this therapy does not know what they are doing, it is very easy to cause injury to the person receiving the therapy. The different attachments, motions, directions, and intensities can cause severe bruising and pain. It is always best to advise with your physician prior to trying percussion therapy.
It is not uncommon to be advised in avoiding percussion therapy if you are on blood thinning medication, have advanced diabetes, heart disease, or are pregnant. Also, people with an acute infectious disease, aneurysm, cancer, or have bad inflammation need to be extra cautious. Percussion therapy could aggravate some ligament and joint injuries that need to be immobilized.
Who is and who is not percussion therapy good for?
Despite the lack of research, some has been conducted and positively reflects the potential benefits of vibration therapy. Some of the research includes the journal of Clinical Rehabilitation that shows how Vibration Therapy can improve muscle strength in older adults. The Current Osteoporosis Reports and Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity has cited research that shows it can help stimulate bone formation and improve bone strength. In the Journal of Athletic Training, they have cited research that shows whole-body vibration therapy can help prevent muscle soreness post exercise. And, NeuroRehabilitation published a study that this therapy can help people with Parkinson’s disease by decreasing muscle tremors. What seems to be most notable are the personal testimonies from so many people whom have had success with the therapy. Like most medical treatments there are good candidates, bad candidates, conditions this therapy can, or cannot help, and the basic fact that not everyone responds the same to every type of treatment.
Every body reacts differently to different modalities. If you are looking to try a Theragun or other version of percussion therapy, be sure to check with your doctor if you are an appropriate candidate for the modality. We have seen some people get hurt from the use of percussion therapy. One common theme among those who are injured by this type of therapy is that the person administering it never checked in with the patient to see how the pressure was and never put their hands on the tissue to check the status of the tissue.
Here at Envision Sport, we do not use percussion therapy, but can help a patient determine if this is a good option for them, or not. However, one of our community partners uses percussion therapy, specifically the Hypervolt, and offers a free demo! Checkout our friends at Motion Stretch Studio.