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Foam roller vs. massage gun: The best way to massage your muscles after a workout

Find out if a foam roller or a massage gun is a worthwhile buy.

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Foam rolling is one way to help your muscles recover from a tough workout. 

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Workout recovery is arguably just as important as the workout itself, which is why it's important to find recovery tools that work for you. And while everyone's recovery needs will vary based on what you do, two of the most popular choices today are the foam roller and the massage gun

And while there's room for both tools in anyone's recovery arsenal, you may be wondering which is best for you (and your wallet). While a foam roller is typically a lot cheaper than a massage gun (which can cost $500 and up, depending on the brand), you can find a few more affordable massage gun options these days that might work for you too. But when it comes to functionality, these two tools are pretty different and both can help you feel better and recover from exercise a lot faster than doing nothing. 

Keep reading to find out the major benefits and not-so-great features of each, and how to know which one is best for you. 

Using a massage gun for muscle soreness

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Massage guns are a popular way to reduce pain and muscle soreness.

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Massage guns (like the Theragun and the Hyperice Hypervolt) are favorites of pro athletes and elite trainers, but they actually have a lot of versatile functions. You can use a massage gun to help you release everyday stress and tension (like in your shoulders and upper back) and it can even help you sleep better.  

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Massage guns are also a favorite of fitness fiends, since they have some impressive benefits for fitness and recovery. They use a technique called percussive therapy to help move lactic acid (which is what makes you feel sore) out of the body faster. 

You can think of percussive therapy as a super-charged massage -- the percussive force is fast and intense, which helps you feel less pain. Massage guns can feel weird at first, but once you get used to them, it feels like a massage. Below are a few key points when it comes to the benefits and drawbacks of a massage gun versus a foam roller.

Read more: When not to use a Theragun

What it can do:

  • Deeper, intense massage due to the high force of the gun 
  • Target small, hard to reach areas (guns often come with various attachments to help you reach certain areas)
  • Provide almost instant relief from tension, aches or soreness

What it can't do: 

  • Most guns don't have a gentle setting, and can feel intense if you're sensitive to massage
  • Can't cover a large area of your body like a foam roller can 

Best for:

  • People who work out seriously or play sports a lot
  • People who need deep relief from tension and pain
  • If you want targeted relief

Using a foam roller for muscle soreness

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A foam roller helps move lactic acid out of the body, which can help reduce soreness.

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Foam rollers were once those weird things that people forgot about in the corner of the gym, but now they're definitely having a moment. Foam rollers, like massage guns, also help move lactic acid out of the muscles and help you recover. The main purpose of foam rolling is to support myofascial release.

Foam rollers come in a variety of densities, textures and sizes. I personally have a long roller that is even big enough for me to lay on at home. It's a medium density and I use it to roll out my upper back, quads, hamstrings and to do shoulder massage exercises. I use it almost every day to "roll out the kinks," even if I don't work out since it feels like a massage. I have a small, travel-sized roller as well that I bring everywhere with me since it's great for targeting neck tension. 

What it can do:

  • Roll out or massage larger areas of your body like both of your legs at the same time
  • More gentle on tight places or knots
  • Cheaper and easy to do anywhere
  • Support flexibility, pain relief and overall recovery

What it can't do:

  • Give you a deep or intense massage like a massage gun (not as much force)
  • Hard to use on small areas of the body (like the traps -- I like the massage gun on my traps since that area is virtually impossible to reach with a roller)

Best for:

  • Everyday use
  • Tighter budgets 
  • Relief from everyday muscle soreness and tension
  • People who workout moderately and want some relief or support with flexibility

Final takeaways

If you're considering whether a massage gun or foam roller is right for you, the first question you may want to ask is how much money do you want to invest? If it's under $50 or so, then a foam roller is a great option. If you don't mind dropping upwards of $200 (depending on the brand) and want pro-level recovery, a massage gun may be worth it. A massage gun may pay for itself if you get regular massages and want to cut down, or want to get a massage-like experience for less in the long run. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.