Let's settle the debate about whether foam rollers or massage guns are better for muscle release/recovery after a workout.
In this article, we've taken the liberty to collect peer-reviewed research from shape.com to help out our readers to figure out the best recovery device for them.
Read on and make your choice!
The old school of thought was that the pressure foam rolling puts on the fascia makes it more malleable. Basically, that it "smushes" out the knots. In fact, one 2015 review published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that in the short term, foam rolling does release some of this tightness, evidenced by an increased range of motion.
However, a more recent 2019 review on the topic published in the journal Sports Medicine concluded that calling a foam roller a"myofascial release tool" is misleading. It takes thousands of pounds of force to actually break down fascia and muscle tissue, that means to break up the fascia in your quad, you'd literally need to drive over them with a truck. (It shouldn't need to be said, but don't do that.)
The real benefit of foam rolling comes down to neurological changes in the muscles. When you foam roll, nerve receptors get stimulated, which your body interprets as a message to relax. Basically, the pressure from the roller speaks to the nerve receptors in the area being rolled, the nerve receptors speak to the brain, and the brain tells your body to chill the hell out.
On the other hand, massage guns oscillate at different speeds against your muscles. To use it, you simply aim it at your skin and let it "massage" (or pulsate against) the muscle beneath. Meaning, unlike a foam roller, which requires that you rock your whole damn bod up and down its length, the only thing that moves when you're using a massage gun is your hand. Easy.
Beyond ease of use, where massage guns beat out foam rollers is in how pin-pointed the stimulation is. Thanks to differently shaped head-pieces, these guns can hyper-target specific problem areas—similar to how someone's hand could find and push against a tight spot in a deep tissue massage.
While the first massage gun is thought to have been invented in 2008, massage guns didn't really hit the market until Theragun released their first product in 2016. So, as of yet, there isn't much research specifically on the guns themselves to validate (or invalidate) many of their purported benefits. However, one 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research did find that vibration therapy (which percussive guns qualify as) is an effective way to combat DOMS.