8 Best Massage Guns and Theraguns (2023): Top Alternatives and Tips | WIRED

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8 Best Massage Guns and Theraguns (2023): Top Alternatives and Tips | WIRED

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Massage guns, also known as percussive therapy devices, help relax and soothe sore muscles, whether you’re an athlete or just hunching over a desk all day. Theraguns (made by Therabody) tend to be some of the most popular. We’ve tested and like the entire range, but they’re expensive. There are plenty of Theragun alternatives out there for hundreds of dollars less. In this guide, you’ll find a mix of both for all budgets—plus helpful information from a physical therapist and athletic trainer on how these devices can help our bodies. These are our favorite massage guns.

If you decide to get a Theragun, there are additional accessories available. Most importantly, you can buy foam tips separately, so don't think you have to buy the Theragun Pro to get the relief you need. You can currently get the supersoft, wedge, large ball, thumb, standard ball, dampener, and cone attachments separately. You can also purchase a Duo Adapter Set, stands, extra batteries, and wireless chargers.

Updated April 2023: We’ve added the new Gravity Move portable massage gun and notes about Therabody's TheraFace Pro. We also moved the iLive to the Honorable Mentions and updated prices and links throughout.

Julian Chokkattu and Jaina Grey also contributed to this guide.

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Jacklyn Plonski, an outpatient orthopedic and pediatric physical therapist, likens percussive therapy devices to using a foam roller or getting a professional physical therapy treatment. Here's what she has to say:

"As we exercise and challenge our muscles, we cause breakdown within the muscle fibers, which in turn stimulates muscle growth and regrowth, hypertrophy (increased muscle size), and strength. Mechanical stimulation of a muscle [with a device like the Theragun] causes increased blood flow and the release of histamines to the stimulated area. What this does is allow the increased blood flow to decrease the inflammatory response, decrease muscle soreness, and break up knots in athletes' musculature." Plonksi has seen anecdotal evidence supporting the use of a Theragun-like device, and no apparent negative effects, but she recommends people always talk to a physician before trying a device.

Shelby Milne, an athletic trainer at the University of Pennsylvania, says athletes at the school swear by massage guns and have used them for both pre- and post-training. “The oscillations can also act as a warming modality for the muscles and tissues before the activity.”

WIRED reviewer Jaina Grey says the Theragun Elite tenderized her muscles like nothing else. With the right foam tip, even on its lowest speed setting, it was able to relieve deep tissue pain and muscle tension with just a few minutes of use. The app integration makes it easy to create and store massage routines for recurring aches, and it’s surprisingly quiet. (It’s Therabody’s quietest device.)

It doesn’t have a rotating arm, but it doesn’t need it. The triangle design allows you to position your hand to reach back and neck muscles. It comes with one battery, as opposed to the two you get with the Theragun Pro, but you’ll get about two hours of use on a single charge. That should be long enough for most sessions.

You don't need the Therabody app (available on iPhone and Android) to operate any of the Theragun massagers, but if you've never used something like this, it can be helpful. The app lets you choose ailments, specific body parts you want to work on, or activities like relaxing your muscles before bed, and you'll see steps to follow to use the device to its fullest. You can also save your favorite massages to get back to them quickly.

Has 40 pounds of pressure and comes with five attachment heads and a carrying case

The Pro is the most expensive Theragun and the kind of device used by college athletic departments and professional sports teams. The 2022 version is quieter than the previous generation, but I didn't notice much of a difference in sound or use. It's still an excellent gadget. It's the only Theragun with a rotating arm, which makes it effortless to use on any spot that's awkward to reach by yourself. There's also a Supersoft attachment for sensitive areas. 

The new carrying case isn't as nice as what I've seen from other competitors—you can typically expect slots specifically for each attachment, but Therabody just has a separate soft case for the attachments so you have to carry two cloth cases. It's no dealbreaker, but you'd expect a nicer solution at this price. I suggest saving some cash and going with the fourth-generation Theragun Pro, which will net you nearly all the same benefits. 

Has 60 pounds of pressure and six attachment heads, plus a carrying case

Yunmai's Slim Elegant (SE) massage gun is simple and works well. I particularly like its attachments. They're firm but coated with soft silicone that feels nice against the skin. Other massage guns are either rigid plastic or soft foam—neither of which feel bad—but these feel better. The SE has five speeds, including two “massage modes.” These modes feel like variations of the first speed, and I would have rather seen more varied speed options (two and three are much more powerful than one). It includes a charging base you can stick to a hard surface if you'd like.

The price has risen since we first tried it, and this model is no longer available on Amazon. We're not sure if it will be around long-term, but we'll keep an eye on it as we try other devices.

Comes with four attachment heads, a carrying case, and a charging stand

The weighted blanket brand we love also makes great massagers, as it turns out. This new little device is powerful. Even level one moves so fast it's hard to see. More and more devices are adding heat, as this one does. The metal attachment reaches 126 degrees Fahrenheit and is controlled by a button directly on it, rather than the main button on the handle. This means you can use it with or without pulsations, and even without it being attached to the device at all. The attachment needs to be charged separately, too: It has its own USB-C charging port, which I've never seen before (it comes with two chargers).

The case only fits the handle with one attachment on it, so I wish it was a little bigger.

★ More From Gravity: The brand also has an older massage gun, the Relax ($150). I tried both the Move and Relax together, and they're similar with the same heated attachment. The Relax is larger, with two additional attachments and a wider range of intensity levels, but I prefer that the Move is so compact.

Comes with four attachment heads and a small carrying case.

Sharper Image's Powerboost Pro+ is my favorite of the brand's several great massage guns. It uses heat, like the Gravity, but its temperature attachment also includes cold therapy, going from 38 degrees to 115 degrees. You can use this one for just the heat and cold, or with pulsations like any other percussive attachment. It has five other heads, and they're all made from a nice hard silicone. The Pro+ is one of the quieter models in this guide too. It gets louder as you increase the speed, but even then it's not blaring. It has a charging stand, which is convenient.

Comes with six attachment heads, a carrying case, and a charging stand

★ A cheap heating alternative: I still love the SKG F5 and it's usually available under $100. There's now an updated version we haven't tried yet, but it comes with nicer attachments. It reaches 127 degrees Fahrenheit and is significantly smaller and lighter than the Sharper Image model, but you can't use the massage function at the same time as the heat function.

This Sharper Image model is usually around $100 or less, making it the best full-size budget massage device. It gently works out all the pains and kinks in your muscles—don't expect a ton of power behind each pulse—and it's light and comfortable to hold.

Comes with five attachment heads and a carrying case

★ Another Sharper Image massager: Sharper Image's Powerboost Flex ($100) is one of the only non-Therabody massage guns I've tried with a pivoting arm to help reach those inaccessible spots. The four attachments aren't as nice as the Powerboost Pro+, but it's smaller and lighter, with the same six speeds.

I'm tired of shiny, ugly plastic, so I appreciate that Lyric prioritized function and design with its massage gun. It's pretty, with a modern shape that's much thinner than other guns and pleasant matte colors. (It looks more like a sex toy, which is a compliment.) Its small touch screen explains each of the four attachments and walks you through guided massages—or you can use it manually. Plus, it has an extension handle you can click on to get hard-to-reach areas like your back.

The company says this massager uses Rhythm Therapy based on vibroacoustic science and offers a wider frequency range and lower amplitude than other massage guns. It claims this can "help nourish the body’s parasympathetic mode" to promote rest or increase energy, depending on which function you choose. I can't say if it was vibroacoustically soothing me to sleep, and its highest level isn't as powerful as others in this guide, but I liked using it for day-to-day needs. There's an app you can use for iPhones (Android is apparently on the way) to follow along with guided massage sessions.

Comes with four attachment heads and a docking station

The LifePro Sonic has eight attachments, the most of any massager we've tried. They have a focus on deep tissue work and specific knots; there's even one that looks creepily like a finger (for deep pressure). It's quite powerful at its highest level, so if you have gnarly aches, you might like it over the priciest Theragun. The Sonic is a little heavy and doesn't have a digital display, but it offers LEDs to show the five intensity levels as well as a battery indicator. I also like LifePro's hand massager and eye massager if you need a whole-body reset.

Comes with eight attachment heads and a carrying case

Therabody offers other muscle aids aside from massage guns, some of which we've tried. The SmartGoggles ($199)(9/10, WIRED Recommends) might be my new favorite gadget. Connect them to the Therabody app to choose one of three modes—Focus, SmartRelax, and Sleep. It vibrates, massages, and heats up and makes me go into an almost catatonic state in the best way. I get some gnarly headaches right behind my eyes, and these really help.

One WIRED writer tried the fancy (and expensive) facial device, the TheraFace Pro ($400). She noticed her skin was softer and brighter, but noted that the efficacy of microcurrent treatment is unclear. If you can afford it and like to pamper yourself, it could be a nice little gadget.

Foam rolling is great for releasing tension and soothing sore muscles, and Therabody has three devices that combine rolling and vibrations. The Wave Roller ($149) is the most similar to a traditional, textured foam roller, but with the vibrations of a percussive device. This one is best for full-body rolling. The small Solo ($79) and the Duo ($99) (we tried the latter), are both more portable and designed for more pinpointed treatment. Consider spending the extra $20 for the Duo.

The PowerDot 2.0 Muscle Stimulator ($349) works for sore muscles and period cramps by using neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). A reusable pad (or pads) sticks to the part of your body that's sore, and the actual devices attach to that pad magnetically. Through an app, you can control the intensity or choose a dedicated session. I was scared it was going to hurt or feel like a shock, but it didn't. Just start low and slow.

We've now tried quite a few massage guns, and they all get the job done safely and comfortably and come with (mostly) the same attachments. Our picks above narrowly beat these out, you'll still be happy with any of the devices listed below, especially if the price is right.

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8 Best Massage Guns and Theraguns (2023): Top Alternatives and Tips | WIRED

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