Massage Gun Vs Foam Roller: Which Is The Better Option?

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Massage guns are all the rage nowadays. Everywhere you look, an advert pops up. Should we believe the hype, wave our credit cards and jump on the bandwagon in order to enjoy the muscle-ache-relieving benefits of massage guns?

There are many possible benefits of using a massage gun, such as increasing circulation, improving flexibility, and decreasing muscle soreness and stiffness.

Nevertheless, a foam roller is a long-standing and staple instrument in any runner’s toolkit.

Foam rollers offer an effective and affordable way for runners to improve recovery and reduce soreness, usually at a fraction of the cost of a massage gun.

With an abundance of options available on the market, it’s hard to know which piece of equipment you should invest your hard-earned cash into.

Between a massage gun vs foam roller, which is better? Today we’ll be taking a look at the massage gun vs foam roller to decide which is best for you.

In this article, we will look at:

  • Massage Gun: Pros & Cons
  • Massage With Foam Roller: Pros & Cons
  • Massage Gun Vs Foam Roller: Which Should You Choose?
  • Final Thoughts On Foam Roller Vs Massage Gun

Let’s roll into it!

A person using a massage gun on their leg.

Massage Gun: Pros & Cons

A massage gun, also known as a percussive therapy device, is a handheld tool that can apply powerful, targeted pressure to muscles and tissues, creating soft tissue manipulation.

You can adjust the speed and use different attachment heads for specific percussive massages.

They are popular among athletes and people experiencing acute or chronic aches and pains, regardless of their activity level.

Massage Gun: Pros

#1: Versatile

A massage gun allows precise targeting of specific body areas.

With adjustable speed, surface area, and direction of force, you have control over your therapy, optimizing its effectiveness by focusing on the areas that require attention.

A person using a massage gun on their shoulder.

#2: Lightweight And Portable

One of the benefits of massage guns is that they are extremely portable. 

Most massage guns are smaller than foam rollers, so you can take them on the road with you when you travel and train.

The lightweight aspect also makes it easier to handle when you are using it.

#3: Physiological Benefits

Massage guns help loosen soft tissue like muscles, fascia, and tendons while also increasing circulation to the targeted area.

This stimulation of blood flow is beneficial because it delivers oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, aiding in recovery from exercise and warming up muscles and connective tissues before a workout.

In fact, studies have shown that massage guns can reduce the severity of delayed-onset muscle soreness, DOMS.

A person using a massage gun on their back.

#4: Different Settings

A massage gun will usually come equipped with a selection of different attachments that can target your tissues in different ways.

For example, a broader head can apply a widespread force to a larger area, such as the quadriceps.

Whereas a smaller head can get deep into specific areas of tension.

Massage Gun: Cons

#1: Price

Massage guns are expensive. At least, the well-known brands are.

Working out which massage gun to get can be tricky; half of them are overpriced but promise a slew of superior benefits, whereas the other half have a slew of less-than-favorable reviews.

When a client asks me at my clinic, “Should I get one?” The answer is often, “Yes, if you want to,” but there’s no need to buy top-of-the-range.

As we’ll soon see, there is little high-quality evidence to solidly substantiate the claims that some of the very well-advertised guns claim.

Therefore, don’t break the bank on your first purchase. Buy low-mid range and see if you like it.

A person using a massage gun on their leg.

#2: Lack Of Research

Massage guns have very strong advertising campaigns but a noticeable lack of large, peer-reviewed studies backing up their claims.

Although there is a fair amount of research on the benefits of massage therapy and foam rolling, there is limited evidence that percussive therapy delivered through the medium of a massage gun works in the same way.

If they work for you, great, but don’t buy one, thinking they will solve any and all ailments. The specific way in which they help recovery still remains unclear.

Massage with Foam Roller: Pros and Cons

As mentioned earlier, a foam roller has long been a staple tool for runners to use.

So how does it compare to a massage gun?

Using the foam roller can be a great addition to your pre-workout or post-workout recovery routines.

A person foam rolling their hamstring.

Foam Roller: Pros

#1: A Reduction In Muscle Soreness

Foam rolling is a beneficial method to alleviate muscle soreness following a run.

Running often leads to muscle tightness and discomfort, hindering future performance.

Studies have demonstrated that incorporating foam rolling into a routine can reduce muscle soreness for up to three days after intense squatting exercises.

By applying targeted pressure with a foam roller, runners can release muscle tension and alleviate soreness effectively.

#2: Increases Range Of Motion

Studies have shown that foam rolling provides a significant improvement in muscle flexibility and range of motion.

Running over time can result in tight and inflexible muscles, increasing the risk of injury.

By utilizing foam rolling, adhesions in the muscles and fascia can be broken up, promoting an increased range of motion and reducing the likelihood of injury.

A person foam rolling their back.

#3: Cost Effective

Foam rolling is an affordable method of soft tissue manipulation for your body. While it may sometimes not be as targeted as a massage gun, it gets the job done.

There is no conclusive evidence indicating the superiority of specific foam rollers over others, but some studies suggest that harder foam rollers may be more effective.

With prices typically under $20, foam rollers are cost-effective and have a long lifespan.

Foam Roller: Cons

#1: It Can Hurt!

Foam rolling can be highly uncomfortable, particularly for beginners.

Excessive tightness in the body can make the experience painful, preventing the muscles from truly relaxing.

Runners with sensitive or injured areas may experience pain and potential worsening of symptoms when foam rolling.

It is important to approach foam rolling gradually and allow your tolerance to build up over multiple sessions rather than expecting immediate comfort in a matter of seconds.

A person foam rolling their calf.

#2: It Doesn’t Always Work

The purported benefits of foam rolling often rely on anecdotal evidence and lack extensive scientific research. That said, there is a larger bulk of evidence when compared to massage guns.

While foam rolling can be advantageous for many runners, individual experiences may vary.

Each person’s body is unique, and what may be effective for one runner may not yield the same results for another.

If foam rolling becomes more painful than it is beneficial, it is advisable to explore alternative forms of recovery.

#3: Hard To Reach Certain Areas

A foam roller may offer great relief when working on the legs, which is crucial when it comes to running relief, but they aren’t very good at getting into the shoulders and neck, unlike a massage gun.

A person foam rolling their back.

Massage Gun Vs Foam Roller: Which Should You Choose?

Both products can be useful tools for you to add to your recovery routine. Each offers a unique method of recovery, which is thought to result in reducing DOMS and increasing flexibility.

There is currently more scientific evidence to promote the use of foam rolling over massage guns, although that may change as time goes on.

A massage gun tends to be superior when it comes to being able to work specifically on a certain muscle on the body, and it is easy to use and maneuver so you can release those harder-to-reach areas.

It is also lightweight and easy to pack, so you can use it at the gym (to be honest, most gyms have foam rollers lying around) or abroad.

The main downside is the price. Which in most cases is magnitudes more than foam rollers. Although, as I mentioned earlier, there are some affordable options on the market that get the job done.

A person foam rolling their calf.

In my experience, most runners find it easier to apply deep pressure to the larger leg muscles with a foam roller due to the benefit of gravity.

When choosing between a foam roller and a massage gun, think about your personal preferences and specific needs.

So, massage gun vs foam roller?

Do you find foam rolling hard to do? Then maybe the versatility of a massage gun is best suited to you.

Do you want an affordable, simple tool to induce soft tissue manipulation? Then maybe a foam roller is best suited for you.

Both products are most effective when used correctly. So be sure to learn specific techniques, routines, and your muscle anatomy to get the most out of either one.

You may find that both suit you best, or neither!

A person foam rolling their calf.

Final Thoughts on foam roller vs massage gun

Many of us are looking for a silver bullet that will fix all our aches and pains.

A massage gun and a foam roller both have a useful part to play when it comes to recovery and will add value to any well-thought-out exercise routine.

But recovery is complicated. It usually requires us to nurture our psychological, nutritional, and physical selves.

Although a massage gun or foam roller can help reduce feelings of soreness, they are both limited when it comes to addressing the root cause of the problem.

While there is ongoing debate regarding the limited evidence-based studies on the benefits of massage guns or foam rollers, there is a significant body of evidence that supports the effectiveness of sleep, progressive strength training programs, and correct training methodology in reducing the risk of injury.

Before you get a massage gun, or a foam roller, prioritize healthy food, a good night’s sleep, and at least two strength training sessions a week. This will give your muscles the best chance of recovery and avoiding injury, and it’s free!

If you are already doing all these things, perfect! Gauge which tool best suits you and add it to the recovery routine!

If you would like to read about a specific massage gun, then check out our review of The Bob and Brad T2 Massage Gun!

If you would like to read about a foam roller, then check out our review of The 4 Best Foam Rollers Of 2023.

A person foam rolling their calf.
Photo of author
Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

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