There’s a fair amount of confusion and overlap between percussive and vibration therapy. These are similar, but separate, therapies that both apply force to a muscle. However, they vary in amplitude, or how deep that force is applied, as well as speed. “Vibration therapy is more of a superficial application,” explains McSweeney, as it generally involves having patients sit, stand, or lay on a platform that vibrates. “It’s great for increasing blood flow in the muscle and relaxing the muscle. Percussion therapy works at a different frequency, with a deeper therapeutic application to release trigger points, break up scar tissue, and release nerve pain.”
Targeted vibration therapy is another facet of the percussion/vibration space, which involves focusing vibrations on a more specific part of the body. It works at three to five times the speed of percussion therapy, but with a much smaller stroke. That faster rate makes it easier to direct more energy very comfortably, which means you can use it on more sensitive spots—think the jaw, neck, fingers or Achilles tendon—that wouldn’t take well to the blunter force of percussive therapy.
While there is some crossover between percussive and vibration therapies, largely due to the varying frequencies, amplitudes, and strokes of respective tools—it’s important to distinguish the two. Percussive technology, in the form of the massage gun, is widely recognized as a self-care technology, while vibration devices typically require a health practitioner. Still, “they both have a place and a therapeutic value,” says McSweeney.