Experiencing sore muscles the day after an intense workout is an issue many athletes and sports enthusiasts have to manage. Self-myofascial release therapies such as massage guns and foam rolling can help you reduce pain and get back on your feet. So is a foam roller or massage gun the better alternative is for your needs?

A massage gun is better than a foam roller for self-myofascial release when treating chronic muscle pain. They can decrease inflammation, increase oxygen flow, and promote healing. Foam rolling is a more affordable alternative to release muscle pain and tension every day or after a workout.

Both massage guns and foam rolling therapies are excellent choices to release tension and help muscle recovery. Below, you'll find everything you need to choose between the two.

Myofascial Release: What Is It and How It Can Help You

Both foam rollers and massage guns are great alternatives to reduce muscle inflammation and pain. They can also speed up recovery after an intense workout. In both cases, you will be practising a form of self-myofascial release therapy.

Myofascial release therapy falls under the category of alternative medicine. The scientific evidence of the beneficial effects of this process on the body are still being processed. However, some studies have found that it can be useful in decreasing pain and improving mobility.

When you experience muscle pain following a workout or intense physical activity, it can be due to the fascia rather than the muscle. The fascia is a layer of thin, elastic, and resistant connective tissue. You will find it wrapping around muscles, joints, ligaments, and most structures in the body.

Fascia Elasticity

The primary responsibility of this fascia is to protect the tissue and structures underneath. However, the fascia can become tense and restricted due to intense physical activity, inactivity, or trauma. Lifestyle factors including hydration, activity and posture also influence the fascia's elasticity.

In turn, this can cause the fascia to become painful, tenser, and restricted blood flow to the surrounding structures. When the fascia becomes tighter and painful, you might find it harder to recover quickly from a workout, and it can even lead to chronic pain.

In these cases, myofascial-release therapy can help. It enables your body to increase the fascia's mobility, fight inflammation, and recover from pain. There are several self-myofascial release techniques that you can use to achieve the desired results at home. Among these, you will find foam rollers and massage guns.

You can learn more about fascia in the video below or discover the best solution for you in the next sections.

What Is a Massage Gun?

A massage gun is a handheld and rechargeable device that oscillates to produce thumps at the desired speed. It oscillates against your muscles up to 2500 times per minute. This stimulates the knots in your muscles that can be harder, painful, or more sensitive due to a workout or inflammation. These knots are referred to as "trigger points".

When using a massage gun, all you need to do is point at the painful areas and regulate the speed. One of the benefits of massage guns is that you don't need to move your whole body against the gun attachment. You are only required the point the gun attachment head at the tight areas with your hand to feel a release in the most painful points.

foam roller_massage gun with attachments

Some studies confirming these guns' effectiveness are yet to be completed. Still, some experts report that massage guns can increase blood flow and oxygen circulation in some body areas. In turn, this can translate into quicker recovery and decreased inflammation.

DOMS

Massage guns are not a new invention, and they were patented in 2008. However, only when the Theragun was made available in 2016, massage guns became more popular. Since they are still a new introduction in the fitness world, few studies confirm their effectiveness.

Among these, a 2014 study shows that they might be useful in fighting DOMS (Delayed-onset muscle soreness). This is the condition you might suffer from after an intense workout.

Benefits of a Massage Gun

Massage guns are a very effective type of myofascial release. Due to their ease of use and accuracy, they are appreciated by athletes who require more intense stimulation than foam rolling.

When using a massage gun you can also change the differently-shaped heads. This further enhances stimulation that massage therapy can offer you.

Some of the benefits of massage guns include:

  • They offer a deeper massage and more intense sensations compared to foam rolling.
  • Massage gun therapy allows you to target hard to reach areas thanks to the various interchangeable heads.
  • The stimulation only targets a small area, so you can massage the parts of the muscle that need it the most.
  • Because of their high power, massage guns provide instant relief
  • You can operate them by holding them with one hand
  • They are suitable for individuals with limited mobility because they don't require you to lay down or move your entire body against a roller.

Some drawbacks of massage guns worth keeping in mind include the fact that not all models boast gentler settings. So they can be unsuitable for individuals who are particularly sensitive to pain.

Additionally, massage guns are designed to cover a small portion of the muscle. If you are looking for a full-body experience, traditional massage or a foam roller might be more effective.

Who Is a Massage Gun For?

A massage gun might be as good as a foam roller, but these devices might not be suitable for different individuals. Indeed, a massage gun is a better option for:

  • Athletes or professional sportspeople
  • Individuals who practice a sport regularly and to high levels
  • People who have been dealing with chronic muscle pain need a deeper release than foam rolling can provide.
  • Individuals who require a targeted release for some areas of the body
  • People with reduced mobility cannot autonomously lie on a foam roller or hold their weight easily.

What Is a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is a cylindrical device lined with compressed foam. These devices come in different sizes, and they can boast different degrees of firmness. Additionally, the nodules you will find on them compose a pattern that might be more or less suitable for beginners.

Some boast firmer nodules that will deliver a more intense massage. Others have softer buttons that are more suitable if you are looking for a gentler effect. Some foam rollers come without spikes or nodules. These make them the perfect entry-point if you wish to try self-myofascial release.

foam roller_foam roller on ground

Like the massage gun, foam rolling is used as a type of self-myofascial release. It can reduce muscle soreness and increase flexibility and mobility. Gym-goers and athletes might use these devices before or after their workout to speed up recovery and improve performance.

While foam rolling can be as effective as a massage gun, it offers gentler effects. It also allows you to cover more extensive parts of the body, such as the shallow back, legs, or neck.

Benefits of a Foam Roller

If you are looking for a gentler myofascial release therapy, foam rolling might be the right activity for you. To practice foam rolling, you will need to place the area you are looking to treat on the roller and massage it with backward and forward movements. You can use the foam roller on all areas of your body although it is easier to work the lower body,

Research has shown that two minutes of self-myofascial release or foam rolling can increase the range of motion up to 10%. So many athletes practice foam rolling before their workout to improve their performance.

Some other benefits of foam rolling include:

  • Allows you to treat entire muscle groups and large parts of your body at the same time.
  • Provides a gentler type of stimulation, which is more suitable if you are sensitive to pain.
  • Helpful in releasing tension, tightness, and pain in the muscles.
  • Reduces the symptoms of fibromyalgia and relieves back pain.
  • ┬áIt is quite portable and a more affordable alternative to the massage gun.

Just like other types of myofascial release therapies, foam rolling has its drawbacks. For example, the massage they provide might not be intense enough for your needs.

Additionally, foam rolling won't help you treat some muscles and areas that are hard to reach. It can also make it more difficult for you to single out areas for concern.

Who Is a Foam Roller For?

A foam roller is an excellent alternative if you are looking for gentle myofascial release therapy. You should opt for this choice over a massage gun in the following situations:

  • You are looking for a massage device for everyday use.
  • On a tighter budget and looking for an affordable option to release the muscle's tension and stiffness.
  • Looking for a device that can help you improve your flexibility and performance before a workout.
  • You are looking for a more relaxing option than a massage gun.

Massage Gun vs. Foam Roller: Which One Is Better?

Massage guns and foam rollers are great options for a practical self-myofascial release therapy. Both devices can effectively reduce muscle pain and decrease inflammation, and improve range of motion.

In some cases, self-myofascial release therapy can also help reduce the build-up of lactic acid. Lactic acid can have some consequences on your performance. Recent studies have confirmed that lactic acid is not the cause behind muscle soreness and pain, as it was believed for many years.

Ultimately, in terms of effectiveness, both foam rollers and massage guns have their benefits. So it can be hard to determine which one is better between the two. Nonetheless, there are some factors to consider that might make one a better choice for your particular situation.

These factors include:

Cost

Massage guns are much more expensive than foam rollers. While foam rollers can cost less than $20, massage guns can be as expensive as $500. Consider your budget when choosing between the two.

Frequency of use

Massage guns might be more suitable for weekly massage sessions, but they might be too intense for everyday use. Foam rolling, instead, is an excellent addition to your daily workout.

Pain sensitivity

Massage guns are intense therapies designed to offer immediate relief to a specific area. The effect they create can be acute and not suitable for highly sensitive individuals to pain or discomfort.

The Treated Area

Massage guns will treat a smaller area, and they are suitable to provide relief and precise muscle. Instead, foam rollers can help you treat entire muscle groups.

Massage guns are not necessarily better than foam rollers, but they can help you treat a specific area more deeply. They also might be more suitable for athletes who practice sport at high levels regularly. This is because it is the most effective device for deal with the consequences of muscle soreness.

However, ideally, you should have both devices in your gym bag and pick the one you prefer to use.

Alternatives for Self-Myofascial Release

At some point, we all have to deal with muscle soreness and pain. When this is related to the fascia, the pain can be part of an isolated incident or lead to chronic pain and inflammation. In the first case, you might shrug it off and continue with your workout.

However, if your athletic performance and ability to move are hindered by muscle pain, it is crucial to find a therapy that can help you. Massage guns and foam rollers are undoubtedly great alternatives that can be put to use immediately and with great results.

Aside from reducing muscle tension, other options can also yield some crucial benefits for your health and athletic performance. Check out some alternatives to couple up with your foam roller or massage gun below.

Stretching and Yoga

When it comes down to improving muscle mobility and flexibility, it is impossible not to consider stretching. When done correctly, stretching can help you increase your muscles and joints' range of motion. This is an essential aspect of maintaining your overall health.

Among the most effective kinds of stretching techniques, you will find dynamic and static stretching. In the first technique, you will stretch your muscle by allowing them to complete movements through their full range of motion.

In static stretching, you will keep an extended position for 30 to 90 seconds at a time, or even longer. This gives time to the muscles to adapt to that limit and push forward

Both styles of stretching have significant benefits that athletes cannot ignore. Additionally, in both cases, you can experience muscle relaxation and tension release. This will help reduce inflammation and pain.

Yoga has been seen to be particularly useful for stretching. Indeed, this practice employs both static and dynamic stretching and allows your body to move beyond its current range of motion.

At the same time, yoga promotes breathing techniques, stress release, and better posture. These three factors, among many others, can help release muscle tension, pain, and soreness. You can also find yoga workouts that focus on self-myofascial release for different areas of the body. Checkout the great video below from Man Flow Yoga:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Muscle pain and soreness can be linked to tension, bad posture, or other lifestyle factors. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) can be an effective therapy. Alongside relieving the muscles' tension, this technique can also help lower cortisol levels. It also keep stress under control.

To practice PMR, find a comfortable position and tense and relax your body's muscles gradually. For example, you might start from your feet, calves, quads, hamstrings, etc., and then move upwards to the shoulders and neck muscles.

This technique is incredibly accessible, and you can practice anywhere for as long as you need. However, it can be particularly useful in reducing physical and physiological stress.

PMR is not a type of self-myofascial release therapy but it still can be effective. It can be an option if you are looking to find relief from the discomfort caused by bad posture and repetitive actions.

Meditation and Mindful Practices

Obviously, meditation and mindfulness are not physical massages to deliver to you your muscles. What they can do is help you better manage stress and speed up recovery. Indeed, these practices will help you lower the levels of cortisol. This is the stress hormone which can worsen inflammation and make pain and discomfort longer-lasting.

Additionally, meditation and mindful practices such as yoga and tai-chi allow you to understand the connections in your body. This increases your self-awareness and improves your athletic performance.

Meditation can also speed up recovery and help you better deal with pain.

Conclusion

Both massage guns and foam rollers are great devices if you are looking for tension relief. Both devices are great self-myofascial therapy options. They can be used to increase mobility, reduce pain, and enhance performance.

Nonetheless, massage guns are better than foam rollers if you are looking for a targeted treatment on a specific area of the body. Massage guns are also more powerful than foam rollers. Instead, foam rollers are more affordable, gentler, and can help you treat an entire muscle group simultaneously.

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