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I tried the $600 massage gun used by top NBA players—and can’t imagine going back to my old routine

In Business
April 13, 2024

It started without warning. First in my lower back, then my feet and even sometimes my neck. 

Little by little, as I’ve progressed through my twenties and now stare 30 in the eye, I’ve picked up aches and pains along the way. 

I’ve done my best to age gracefully. I’m no bodybuilder, but I’ve been a regular at the gym since I was 15. I’m careful about my form while lifting and even do a little bit of stretching. During the work day, I’m (mostly) aware of my posture while I sit in my office chair. 

But still, some things aren’t quite the same as they used to be, especially when it comes to recovery. A workout that once would have left me a little sore the next day might now require a full day or two to recover from. 

My body’s gradual decline has coincided with the rise of massage guns. For years I’ve noticed them popping up at my gym, on NBA sidelines and even at the homes of some of my friends. But I never considered buying one for myself. 

After all, I would think, how helpful could they really be? With high-end models selling for more than $500, I thought the pain in my wallet would be worse than the pain in my back.

But with my 30th birthday around the corner, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. I reached out to Therabody — the pioneering company whose Theragun helped kickstart the personal massager craze — who offered to let me take their top-of-the-line Theragun PRO Plus for a test drive. 

If ever there was a device that would help me determine if a massage gun is a worthwhile investment, it would be this one. With endorsements from NBA stars like Paul George, James Harden and Tyler Herro, can the Theragun make a difference for a regular Joe?

Experts agree: Percussive therapy works

Percussive massagers can regularly be seen being used by athletes on the sidelines of NBA games.

Ezra Shaw | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

The PRO Plus bills itself as the “ultimate multi-therapy device for athletic performance,” with a list of purported benefits including faster recovery, improved performance, reduced soreness and reduced injury risk. 

But rather than take the marketing materials’ word for it, I went to some experts for their opinions on the efficacy of massage guns. 

Wil Colón , a board-certified orthopedic and physical therapist at NYU Langone, explained exactly how handheld massagers could help my body feel better.

“When you use these percussive instruments you’re promoting more blood flow to the area, which helps with recovery,” he explained. “The more blood flow, the more nutrients you get to the tissue.” 

Colón purchased a massager to use on his own patients and is fond of taking it home with him after a hard workout to alleviate soreness. For my aches and pains, he said, a tool like the Theragun should prove useful. 

“Even though it improves flexibility and range of motion and helps with stiffness, the effects are short term,” he adds. “If you stop using [the gun], you’ll stop benefiting from it.”

Erik Phillips, the director of performance for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, agreed. His team employs percussive massagers from Hyperice to help elite athletes like Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen perform at the highest level. 

I think [percussive therapy is] very beneficial for anyone ranging from someone just starting to run to elite level athletes.

Erik Phillips

Director of Performance, Utah Jazz

He uses massagers to achieve a variety of goals ranging from decreasing soreness, pain and muscle tightness to flushing out lactic acid and helping improve range of motion. 

“By increasing range of motion and making sure you’re working as normal as possible through soreness, you’re decreasing other compensations that might lead to injury,” he explained. “Let’s say you have a tight calf and aren’t walking normally. It may lead to you kind of peg-legging it and stepping on the other side more and lead to some asymmetries in your body.” 

Though he added that NBA players generally use percussive massagers as a stop-gap between the regular massages they receive from trainers, Phillips said a layperson like myself could get plenty of value using it as my primary recovery tool.

“You could spend from $100 to $300 on a massage, and that’s one or two payments of buying a gun,” he says. “I think it’s very beneficial for anyone ranging from someone just starting to run to elite level athletes. There’s not many drawbacks unless you use it wrong.” 

Is it worth the money? 

After more than a month of using the Theragun PRO Plus, it’s hard to imagine going back to my old stretching routine.

There were instances where the tool felt like nothing short of a miracle. Lower back stiffness that might otherwise have bothered me all day was eliminated with a few minutes of percussion and I was able to go about my day without needing to stop and stretch.

A leg workout that under any other circumstances would’ve left me hobbling was remedied by passing the gun over my hamstrings, quads and glutes. It didn’t eliminate the soreness entirely, but it greatly reduced my stiffness and helped with my general mobility. 

Running it over my chest, biceps, shoulders and lats helped me feel loose and relaxed after a long day. I quickly developed a new routine of massaging my calves, Achilles and feet while laying on the couch and watching TV.

On top of the variety of attachments included to massage various parts of your body, the PRO Plus has features including guided breathing and red light therapy.

Therabody’s sleek app is loaded with guided massage routines, but I found myself more likely to pick up the device and use it on a troublesome area. These extra features are nice to have, but I’ll need to get a lot more serious about my fitness routine before I start using them with any regularity.

As far as the physical benefits go, Colón explained that any similar product would help me achieve the same results regardless of the extra bells and whistles.

“They’re essentially identical as long as they’re vibrating at the same frequency,” he said. 

While a non-athlete like me definitely doesn’t need Therabody’s priciest offering, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay full price after my extended test-drive. After all, I’m not getting any younger.

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