A Conversation on Percussion with Theragun

Following a motorcycle accident that left him severely injured and looking for relief, Dr. Jason Wersland pioneered the massage gun category when he conceptualized the original Theragun design in 2008. Over a number of years, the California-based chiropractor continued to tinker and refine the design, launching the first consumer version in 2016. While competition in the category has intensified in recent years, Wersland and his team, including VP of Performance Development Paul Cauldwell, have continued to innovate. 2020 has been a big year of launches for the Theragun team as they built out their model line-up - introducing the Mini and the Elite devices - and created a new motor focused on noise reduction. On top of that, they also created the Therabody app with a step-by-step guide through a recovery program on their Bluetooth enabled devices.

Editor's Note: This article is another in our Slowtwitch Recovery Series. Brands participating in the Recovery Series make contributions financially to Slowtwitch. Theragun is one of the participants in this series.

Slowtwitch: Can you tell us about your background in the years leading up to your conceptualizing and designing Theragun?

Wersland: I grew as the oldest in a large family. My family is from Norway and we also had a farm growing up. I would spend summer times on the farm working learning resourcefulness. I have always been around tools and was handy with things. I worked in flooring for years, installing tile, carpet, hardwood flooring and becoming proficient with power tools. After a severe motorcycle accident left me injured, all of these things came together and I founded Theragun. I was left in constant and debilitating pain. In order to treat my injuries, I searched for a handheld device to provide deep muscle relief but I wasn’t able to find any on the market. As a result, I made something myself, and it worked. I spent the next eight years developing and refining five different versions which led to our first consumer launch of the G1 in June of 2016.

Slowtwitch: What did you learn from the injuries you sustained from your motorcycle accident that led you to designing the Theragun the way you did?

Wersland: As a chiropractor it was frustrating to feel the pain and to know what I needed but not be able to treat myself. I knew that being in pain was not good for my healing process. I felt powerless. I didn’t like that. So, I started searching for something that I could use to treat my muscle and nerve pain in the hours that I wasn’t getting treated for injury.

I discovered Theragun in January 2008 after a very long painful November and December (It wasn’t officially Theragun until 2012, up to then I called it a lot of things). I used the Theragun for the first six months of that year as a goal to be back to 100% by July 4th. The first 2-3 months of 2008 was to get myself out of pain as often as possible. The next couple of months I used the Theragun to rehab and make my workouts tolerable as I got stronger. Then around June or July 2008 I was using it as a recovery device, helping me get through my workouts and for recovery afterwards. I realized that I had collected some very helpful information through my personal experience.

That experience helped me believe that every person should feel that same empowerment and have a tool to use. The design, attachments, balance, every aspect of the Theragun is something a trained therapist can use as well as an everyday person and both have amazing outcomes.

Slowtwitch: Why is percussive therapy important for athletes to consider implementing into their recovery?

Cauldwell: Percussive therapy provides athletes an easy & effective self-care solution to support their recovery needs. A Theragun allows athletes to increase blood flow to the muscles used in their training, target sore muscles from training, trigger points, and minor ailments in a similar way a professional massage would – maximizing their body’s natural recovery processes. Percussive therapy tools are portable, easy to use, and generally less expensive than getting regular massages, which makes it an efficient recovery strategy for any athlete looking to gain an edge between training sessions. Because of the effects to the central nervous system and how it stimulates various mechanoreceptors, percussive therapy can also be used as part of an athlete’s warm-up strategy, as well as part of their intra-workout rest period.

Slowtwitch: For an athlete considering purchasing a massage gun, what should they be aware of as there are now many brands in the space? What confidence should someone have in Theragun given it is on the higher end of the pricing scale?

Wersland: There are so many companies trying to jump in this space we created but Theragun is the originator with the science and research on both our products and our treatments. I think these are very important things to be aware of when buying something for your health. Ergonomics are important. Power and durability are important. Reliability on the brand for customer service and education is important. Those are a few things.

Our newly released Gen 4 Theraguns have a brushless motor driven. Up to this point we made a decision to stay true to our science and sacrifice on the sound. Our previous models did have a definite sound because of the brushed motor we used. With this new motor that is no longer the case. Not all motors are created nor do they perform equally. Our products are created with physician quality design and durability. Everything we share has been tested and has a purpose. When you buy a Theragun you’re not just buying a product or an item, you’re joining an ecosystem.

Slowtwitch: What are the advantages of a massage gun that uses more torque?

Cauldwell: Torque is how strong or powerful the motor is in one revolution. The force of the user and torque of the motor creates the pressure applied to the body. It’s like the difference between a Ford truck and a Prius. Theragun has the power when you need deep tissue relief. As you apply force using a gun without sufficient torque, the motor would stall. Theragun is built to help everyone, even those needing the most pressure applied to different areas. The combination of force the user applies, and the torque of the motor creates the pressure stimulus applied to the body that Theragun can offer.

Slowtwitch: Why is amplitude important to consider?

Cauldwell: Amplitude is the distance that the head travels in one revolution. The amplitude not only affects the pressure being applied per unit of time, but also the size of the vibration stimulus. The importance of this is that with that amplitude the attachment comes all of the way off your body before touching the body again. This is important because this way your body’s nervous system never gets a chance to “get used to this” so it feels amazing every second. In contrast, if it never left your body you would get used to the feeling, just like your underwear. This is called accommodation. Our brain accommodates things that are constant and non-threatening. If you were aware of your socks every second, think how uncomfortable that would be.

Slowtwitch: How would you recommend using it over muscles that are sensitive or sore to the touch?

Cauldwell: When it comes to addressing sore or sensitive muscles, we recommend using the dampener attachment combined with the slower speed of 1750 PPM (percussions per minute), or 29 taps per second. The combination of the soft attachment and the slower frequency will provide a right amount of pressure to the sensitive area that will assist with providing increasing blood flow and improved tissue quality, while providing the user a positive experience. We also recommend starting on a region located around the sensitive area in a circular fashion for 30-45 seconds, before moving directly to the sore spot.

Slowtwitch: What led to the creation of a Theragun app? Are the programs and techniques in the app the best-practices recommended by your education team?

Cauldwell: Everyone’s needs are unique and based on the different types of activity they do and their general lifestyle as well. Our latest app is designed to create a personalized experience for any Theragun user and help guide them to address their personal needs. To date we have created more than 30 custom built protocols, that range from running, swimming, cycling, high intensity workouts, dealing with various ailments, traveling, sleeping, etc. The app then can use data from different wearables to understand your needs or help you self select those yourself, take control of the Theragun, and guide a user through the entire recovery session. It can adjust the speed automatically and show the athlete exactly how to hold and grip it and what attachments work best for which muscles. Our Apple Watch app is also designed for those who want to leave their phone at home during a training session. The goal being to help everybody optimize how percussive therapy can benefit them.

Weigh in on percussive therapy on our curated forum thread All Things Recovery.

Photos by @DigitalKnightProductions