ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Wide receiver Marvin Jones sat on a small stool in front of his stall in the Detroit Lions locker room rubbing a tool that sounded and looked like a power drill all over his body. The sound rose over Jones’ voice.
It looked weird, but Jones didn’t care. It felt good. It was the middle of August, and training camp had started causing the aches and bruises it always does. He wanted to stay fresh. So mid-conversation, he took the loud, hand-held, battery-powered machine, pressed the trigger and pushed.
The machine could be mistaken for a woodshop toy gone mad. It looked like a drill, but instead of tightening screws it was loosening muscles. This is the TheraGun — a massager that is becoming increasingly popular in NFL locker rooms and across sports.
“Oh my gosh, it’s a lifesaver,” Jones said. “I can’t live without it anymore. It’s just, they have all this stuff, very expensive stuff that the trainers around the world, they have. It just gets circulation [going]. You have a knot, it’s a massager. It’s a stimulator. It’s everything to get your muscles performing.
“I use it before every practice, every game, stuff like that. When I use it, after I use it, I could go out there and just start running. I wish I had it early on.”
The TheraGun and machines like it — TimTam is a competitor — have turned into part of players’ prehab. Some even use it during games. Atlanta receiver Julio Jones was spotted using a TheraGun on his hamstrings between possessions during a game last year. Kyrie Irving had a trainer use it on his back and shoulders during last season’s NBA Finals.
This doesn’t replace stretching or old-fashioned massage. It works on fascia and other soft tissue, loosening muscles. Marvin Jones estimates he uses it about 30 minutes a day, switching the different black-and-blue nodule pieces while reaching every part of his body.
“Gets you warmed up because before you start stretching your muscles are tight, so it just gets you nice and loose before you start stretching or doing any high-velocity exercises,” Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We swear by it. You guys see it.
“We use it before games, during games, hell, just hanging out in the locker room. It’s just something that makes, I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing, but it actually makes us feel really good.”
Professional athletes are known for trying every conceivable treatment — from cryotherapy to saltwater floating — in their search for advantages in recovery and longevity. Some might have a placebo effect. This type of massage, though, is a variation of a tried-and-true method.
“I would say it’s different than a [traditional massage],” said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who has not tried TheraGun but uses a device similar to it. “Obviously a normal massage they can feel exactly where you need it, and if you have a Gun you don’t exactly know that.”
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TheraGun — the name came out of a brainstorming session at a Marie Callender’s in Los Angeles — exists because of its creator’s pain. Dr. Jason Wersland, a chiropractor, was riding his motorcycle on Interstate 10 in California. He was hit by a car and herniated a disk in his neck. He searched his own practice for pain relief and nothing worked.
He called his brother, also a chiropractor, and his brother told him about a really high-vibrating instrument. Wersland used it — but it irritated the injury instead of helping it. Wersland grew up in a family of builders. So he tinkered.
“I was never thinking that I was ever going to sell this. That was never the plan,” Wersland said. “I wanted to be able to fix myself, so I went to my toolbox, got three or four tools and just kind of made this thing that was perfect for what I needed.”
The device he created — a rudimentary version of the TheraGun — had the same principles as the G2PRO he now sells for $599. He’d use it for 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, and then more. He got relief.
Life moved on. He forgot about it. Then he treated a bus driver in Los Angeles who had been in a collision with another bus. Nothing he was trying worked. He told the bus driver he had something insurance wouldn’t cover, but with the amount of therapy he was already paying for, it was worth a shot. It was the machine he created.
“It made me realize that, ‘Hey, man, maybe there’s something to this,'” Wersland said. “So I made 250 of my own units with my own money and bought these products and they were barbaric, noisy, plug-in. I sold them as fast as I could make them to chiropractors.
“I’m like, ‘Holy s—, this is cool.’ So I extended myself a little bit more, got 450, spent some time refining the product.”
The product became the hand-held, cordless “G1.” Even then, his plan was to sell to other chiropractors. As he worked on professional athletes, they waited for him to use the TheraGun after training sessions. As the athletes became frustrated by waiting, Wersland pulled 10 TheraGuns out of his car and laid them on the floor.
The athletes, he said, used them without instruction. Professionals understand their bodies better than the average athlete. And they didn’t shirk at the $600 cost. He had a new clientele.
“They know how much pressure to put on and this thing makes it super easy for them to do that,” Wersland said. “Once I realized that, I started giving them context and sold them the product — like this is how you use it before, this is how you use it during, this is how you use it after.
“These are the things to expect from that. Go for it. Do your thing.”
It has led Wersland to expand. Earlier this year, he said he had almost 1,000 devices on backorder. He started marketing to college and high school teams along with everyday, average athletes. There are lofty plans.
“I want it to be like a pencil sharpener was in the ’80s,” Wersland said. “My goal is that every house have one of these.”
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Two years ago, Jaguars safety Peyton Thompson met Wersland while training in Southern California. He saw his machine.
It brought back memories of his childhood, when he joked about creating something similar. He never did. Thompson ordered around a dozen of them for the Jacksonville locker room. Thompson said using the hand-held massager — either the TheraGun he once used or the TimTam he switched to because of its lower cost at $399.99 — is “a necessity in my game.”
“There’s definitely some practices I go out there and I’m like, ‘Damn, I should have hit the TheraGun. Damn,'” Thompson said. “But we sit in meetings for three hours straight and then go out to practice so really doing anything is better for warming your body up or helps you a little bit.
“But it definitely helps. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t need to remember to pack it for every trip. I got to make sure to pack it, for sure.”
The machines give athletes the ability to work on their bodies at any time, when anything crops up. That can eliminate more off-day training room visits or added massage appointments.
And in professions where the body is everything, keeping it in tune can be the literal difference between a short career and a long one.
“I was just telling Marvin, if it wasn’t for this TheraGun, boy, I would knock some years off my career,” Lions tight end Eric Ebron said. “But it’s really good. It’s really good.”
NFL Nation Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss, Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco contributed to this report.