Percussion & Vibration (part III): Treating Yourself (or your best friend/doll)

This post is the final in a series on percussion and vibration, and is best understood by reading the prior two posts on the subject.

Percussion and vibration devices are easily accessible, making self-treatment very appealing and relatively safe. In an effort to optimize safety and results, consider these tips.

Emma using percussion on doll
Percussion devices have so many applications! Emma and her doll, Declinda (there’s a story behind that name, later…) demonstrate that it’s fairly straightforward to use these devices. I had to laugh as Emma pounded Emma’s plastic head with a hard percussion head, prompting a discussion about a more appropriate soft squishy head since Declinda’s head (like ours) is so hard. We are glad to report that Declinda is doing quite well and frequently asks for more treatment from Emma. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.
  1. 1. IDENTIFY YOUR NEEDS: Percussion or Vibration? Percussion tools are very versatile in terms of ability to be used on multiple body parts. The changeable heads also broaden the options for treatment locations. I use the percussion devices far more in treatment than vibration, which is why I typically suggest people go with the percussion gun because of its broader application. Vibration is lovely when oscillation is more ideal, such as when I’m trying to cover a broader site or use a gentler tissue prep. I use the vibration roller most often on the abdomen or the back of the leg. Other than that it is awkward to position on many other sites, limiting its use. The vibration ball is very gentle, so I may use it on the face, neck, head, or even on the abdomen when working with children.
Percussion and vibration devices proved priceless in treating this little girl. In the top left photo I introduced the vibrating mini-sphere to her, which made her giggle. It was great for prepping the tissue there before working on fascial densifications in her abdomen. In the middle picture I let her feel the percussion device on her hand, while her Mom held the vibrating mini-sphere on her tummy. In the photo on the top right we were able to address two areas of involvement at once, all while having fun! All of these sites were then treated with manual manipulation of the fascia, but it took very little time to resolve the densifications and it was minimally uncomfortable. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.

2. IDENTIFY YOUR BUDGET. When I purchased my Hypervolt® units in 2019 they ran ~ $299 on sale. My vibration roller from the same company, Hyperice, was $199, although we have a second less expensive one from another company that no longer offers it. I have been very pleased with the performance of both of these devices, especially considering they only have a 1 year warranty. But the average person is not going to use a device as much as I do (every day for extended periods). So it’s fair to question whether you really need to spend that much to acquire a product that suits your needs. I have seen some very nice, less expensive devices on the market that patients purchased both off the internet and in local stores. Some were very good, some were not. I think there is a point where if you try to get the cheapest device available, be it percussion or vibration, you may be wasting what little money you spend. As mentioned earlier, I have been less pleased with the vibrating mini-sphere from Hyperice due to fragility and cost. Since I would not purchase it again I don’t recommend it to others.

Vibration roller on the abdomen and the leg
Two of my favorite applications for the vibration roller. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.

3. RESEARCH YOUR DEVICE OPTIONS. There’s a lot to choose from! I can’t possibly review all the devices now available. Internet searching will reveal sites that rate products, but I’m not so sure how unbiased they are as it’s not always clear who’s doing the reviewing. Ultimately customer reviews may be the most honest source. Here are some of my favorite devices, in alphabetical order:

Bob and Brad – Nice little percussion devices that seem to perform well, have power output similar to the Hypervolt, and cost less. I like that they give you the squishy head for use on bony places. They also make a mini that is nice for travel, small hands, or anyone who has difficulty holding onto the heavier guns.

Hyperice – the parent company that makes the Hypervolt which is a good, all around percussion device that also has the squishy head for bony places. A bit heavy, so something to consider. Their Vyper vibration roller is also nice, I use it often. As mentioned above, I am less thrilled with the minisphere as it seems overpriced and I also had one to quit working in warranty. They replaced it no questions, but it just does not seem to be built to last. I believe a cheap vibration device could do just as well.

Pado – I used to recommend this more in the past, so it’s been a while since I’ve actually held one. This is different than most percussion devices on the market in that instead of looking something like a hairdryer it reminds me of a back-scratcher of sorts. It’s not as heavy as most other units, which can be an advantage. It has a long handle on it, which could help with reaching places on the back that could be hard with the other models. It’s also a little gentler and less powerful than the hairdryer units. I have recommended this in the past to people who I thought needed more help with reaching the back, a lighter device, and something not so aggressive.

Therabody – parent company making Theragun. They have multiple percussion devices in their product line, and I really can’t direct you deeper as I have not used them. If I was working largely with a young, muscular, athletic population I might consider this as my impression is they are a bit more aggressive. They also have a vibration roller which I have never tested.

4. CHOOSE THE MOST APPROPRIATE SITES TO TREAT. This is the number one question I encounter: “How do I know where to treat?” It’s not feasible for me to teach everyone the Fascial Manipulation (FM) methodology behind my choice of points, so let’s just let that one go. Recall me saying that I do not tend to move the device around much in treatment since I am targeting a specific point. Most videos show moving the percussion device or roller all around the area of problem. Since you don’t know the methodology used in FM, then moving around where it hurts may be your best bet. Do whatever works for you. Here are some guidelines you can try:

  • Treat where you hurt. Simple, straightforward. If it helps great, if it doesn’t then it may be because the problem causing your pain is remote. In other words, where it hurts isn’t always where the problem is. Try checking tissues a little further out from where you hurt and see if it helps.
  • Listen to your body. If working a sites is extremely painful and/or makes your condition worse, then it’s likely not the best choice.
  • Treat where I direct you to treat. Of course, this only works if I am currently working with you. I like doing this for stubborn points that need additional care, or for those who want to accelerate progress between visits.
  • Not all pains and problems are appropriate for percussion and vibration. I never use percussion or vibration on the fascial points around the eyes (yes, there really are several). I typically don’t use percussion on the skull, but I have used the vibration ball here. It depends on the person and the problem. See below for additional precautions.
Treatment of fascial densifications in the trunk and extremites
Many issues require treatment of multiple body parts beyond where the symptoms are. For instance, in cases of back pain as well as internal organ dysfunction I am often treating the back of the trunk, the abdomen, and into the lower limb. The middle picture shows a vibration roller being used to prep the densified fascia of the torso making it quicker, easier, and less painful to address. Photos by Colleen Whiteford.

5. CHOOSE THE MOST APPROPRIATE PERCUSSION HEAD. There are no absolutes here, and multiple different heads may be suited for the same part of the body. Generally speaking on fleshy areas I use the round ball, like on the buttock, thigh, low back, or back of the calf. For smaller muscles (arm, leg) I may use the flat head. For bony places (hand, foot, shoulder, elbow) I typically use the soft squishy head. As mentioned earlier, many devices do not have this head. In that case I would use some type of cloth padding between the bony site and the head of the device, and probably go with the round one. Generally the head that looks like one finger I don’t use as much, as well as the one that has two projections. These are fairly aggressive, but in some cases and with some patients it’s the right choice.

Hypervolt and selection of changeable heads
The Hypervolt comes with five different changeable heads. I use the three in the middle the most, while the two on the ends I tend to not use as much. Many devices do not come with the soft squishy head pictured in the middle. Accessed at

6. DETERMINE APPROPRIATE DOSING OF TREATMENT. This is very individual, as people are very different in pain perception and tolerance. There can also be great variability according to the problem being addressed. Acute or newer problems may respond very differently than chronic or well established ones. Just because some is good does not mean more is better. If you bruise easily then you may need to lighten up, or try a gentler head or even device. I am not aware of scientifically proven protocols for every problem – this stuff is relatively new. Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Frequency of treatment – consider that giving an area at least 1-2 days before returning to it will allow for healing. If you have to keep retreating the same points then it may mean you are not at the source of the problem and you need help.
  • Intensity – I typically use my 3-speed Hypervolt on medium as it seems to work fine and be tolerated. All units are different, so listen to your body.
  • Duration – I tend to not run the percussion device on a point any more than five minutes, and often less. Then I work the site manually for a few minutes, and then often repeat the cycle of percussion/manual. Since most people will not be working on themselves manually, then a longer period of time with the percussion device may be warranted. Just keep in mind that it’s a motor, and motors can burn out. I thought I fried one once but fortunately it revived after several days rest. Since that episode I do not let the percussion guns run longer than 10 consecutive minutes. I also check to see how hot they are by removing the head and inserting my finger where the head goes. If it’s pretty hot then I give it a break. The vibration rollers cut off after a 10 minute cycle, and I have had no issues running them for a second cycle.
Home use of percussion device
The accessibility and ease of application of these devices can offer nice options for maintenance and management of minor issues, and also support professional treatment sessions. Accessed at

7. DON’T TREAT STUFF YOU SHOULDN’T AND GET HELP WHEN APPROPRIATE. These devices are great but certainly have their limitations. Our bodies are also very complicated structures, and respond best when handled with care. Please be reasonable and understand that not all problems can be helped with these devices, and seek competent help when necessary. A few contraindications/precautions that I can think of are listed below. This listing can’t possibly be all inclusive so when in doubt get competent help.

  • DO NOT: treat over an open wound, fresh surgical site, broken bone, snake/dog/whatever bite, cancer site, any area that is warm/red/swollen and such.
  • MAYBE DO NOT: treat over a fresh bruise, area with significant swelling/edema, extremely painful area when the cause is unknown.

The internet is loaded with videos and tutorials on treating lots of diagnoses and body parts. Just remember that getting at the source may necessitate a more global approach, so don’t hesitate to seek help. Hope this helps!

Wishing you health and joy!


Published by Colleen Murphy Whiteford

I am a physiotherapist, graduate of Saint Louis University Class of 1984. I married my best friend and business partner, Bill, who is also a physiotherapist, in 1988. We have worked together all these years - an example of God's grace! Together we started Appalachian Physical Therapy which continues to thrive. I am a big believer in the power of touch, the manual therapies, and treating holistically. There are many alternatives to medications, surgeries, and testing, but people are often uninformed. My perspective emphasizes the role of the connective tissues including the fascia. Lack of attention to this structure is the source of many physical ailments - our bodies are truly fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)! I am passionate about helping people of all ages and diagnoses maximize their health, and empowering them to understand their role in management and prevention of problems.

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