Jigsaw Massage vs. Foam Rollers

When it comes to exercise and workout recovery, there are many potential tools you can add to your arsenal. Jigsaw massage and foam rollers are two highly effective means of tackling post-workout soreness and enabling your body to recover as efficiently as possible.

One of the most common questions many first-time jigsaw massage users or potential users ask is what the difference between a jigsaw massager and a foam roller is. Let’s dive into it.

Jigsaw Massage: The Percussive Massage Experience

To understand jigsaw massage better, it’s worth going into the roots of its broader category: percussive massage therapy.

Percussive massage is a massage technique best known for rapid, consistent, and even tapping on sore muscles with low to medium power. Traditionally, there are various ways percussive massage is done, ranging from a light closed fist and gentle slapping to simple fingertip tapping to light karate chop hacking. Although the execution of the massage differs, the benefits largely do not.

The percussive massage tapping sequences aim to stimulate the nervous system and release lymphatic build up, ultimately reducing pain from muscle soreness, joint stiffness, as well as improve overall muscle function. A recent study found that percussive massage can even treat muscle fibers up to 30 times more effectively than most other massage types.

Percussive bicep massage

Jigsaw massage takes percussive massage to the next level. By utilizing a machine (the jigsaw) and a custom massage head designed for percussive massage impact, jigsaw massagers are able to work at a much higher and much more effective rate. The machine also significantly reduces the amount of human effort required.

Percussive and jigsaw massages have been popular among a wide variety of athletes, from bodybuilders and MMA fighters to surfers and BMXers. Since the massage can be focused on specific areas (i.e., biceps, quads, hamstrings), every category of athlete is capable of getting a unique benefit.

Percussive massages can also be done before workouts to quickly engage the muscles and get them warmed up for action.

Just Roll It Out

“Rolling out”, or the lovely process of using a foam roller to roll your muscles has exploded into the mainstream as one of the most common post-workout recovery routines. Foam rollers have become extremely popular for a variety of athletes and are a fairly common recovery tool.  Are they easy to get started with? Yes. Do they hurt sometimes? Yes. Do they work? According to several studies that examined post-workout foam rolling - yes!

Foam rollers and percussive massage

A study in the Journal of Athletic Training found that foam rolling post-workout can significantly reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness and boost performance in later workouts, which is largely due to the decrease of muscle soreness.

A more comprehensive review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy noted that foam rolling can also help promote short-term increases in your range of motion, as well as increases in muscle flexibility.

The primary benefit of foam rollers is widely thought to be linked to a myofascial release. Fascia (fah-sha) is best described as the thin layer of tissue coating around every muscle fiber, organ, nerve fiber, and bone in the human body. Fascia is essentially the body’s connective tissue, and it’s a complex interconnected system of fibrous connective tissue, protecting organs, individual muscle groups, and the rest of the body.

Fascial imbalances, however, can lead to a slew of physical problems such as limited range of motion and chronic pain. This is exceptionally important for athletes, as tangles in fascia can form from muscle injury, inactivity, disease, inflammation, trauma, and even working out without stretching.

Myofascial release via foam rolling essentially helps undo these tangled fibers. Breaking down these fibers allows the muscles to relax, separate, and become more flexible. As we foam roll our muscles, we also stimulate embedded nerve receptors, which trigger a feeling of pain in our brain, which some scientists argue can help stimulate a more positive neurological connection between brain and body.

Final Thoughts: Jigsaw Massage vs. Foam Rollers

Both jigsaw massagers and foam rollers are excellent additions to anyone looking to take their workout recovery to the next level. Both tools provide essentially different functions and don’t necessarily need to be substituted for one another.

Jigsaw massagers provide a high level of efficiency for stimulating muscle recovery and flushing the body of toxins. Jigsaw massagers can cost anywhere between the mid $100 range to the high $700 range. A jigsaw massager can come with a variety of different massage heads used for different goals.

Foam rollers can help break up fascial imbalances, which can help boost muscle recovery and increase mobility. Foam rollers come in a variety of different thicknesses and textures and can cost anywhere between $10 to $100+. Most gyms with stretching areas likely have foam rollers as well.

Ultimately, a fully equipped muscle recovery set of gear will likely have one or several foam rollers, as well as a jigsaw massager with multiple heads. Personal user preference may lean one way or another, but the science behind muscle recovery and reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness tends to favor a variety of tools and techniques rather than a single individual tool.