A Chiropractor's 'Percussive Therapy Device' Gets a Boost From Celebrity Word-of-Mouth

Friday, August 9, 2019

By Tori Youngblood, reporter at Grow Wire
 6-minute read

In short:

  • Dr. Jason Wersland created Theragun, a handheld "massage gun," after a bad motorcycle accident left him suffering with chronic pain.

  • The company launched in 2016 and has since expanded globally while garnering attention from professional athletes, celebrities and social media influencers.

  • After creating a category, the Theragun team navigated competitors coming out with cheaper devices. It’s continually tasked with finding new tactics -- which currently focus on consumer education -- in order to grow.



In October 2007, then chiropractic student Jason Wersland got on his motorcycle and set out riding down a Los Angeles freeway, heading to take his final exam for school, entirely unaware of the path he would soon travel as a result. While riding, Wersland crashed into a car going 55 mph, life assigning him a different test on the subjects of grit, pain and purpose.

In the months that followed, Wersland experienced immense physical pain, having suffered a disc bulge in his neck as a result of the accident.

“I made all these sacrifices,” he said in regards to his years of schooling. “I had been away from my family and I was just finishing school, and now I’m a patient.”


Riding another path

With only debilitating pain and no health insurance, Wersland was left seeking alternative measures to treat himself. He contacted his brother, who was a chiropractor and also in a serious accident in the months prior. He learned his brother was using vibration therapy, a treatment typically given through mechanical stimulation of a muscle.

Though the treatments brought relief, the positive effects eventually began to dwindle, and Wersland realized he needed something more powerful.

“So I was sitting in my apartment at three in the morning,” he said. “And I thought, this isn’t working, I need something stronger, and I don’t care what it looks like, I don’t care what it sounds like, I don’t care what you call it. I need something to work on myself.”

“So I was sitting in my apartment at three in the morning. And I thought ... I don’t care what you call it. I need something to work on myself.”  

 In the early hours before dawn, he went to his backyard shed with a mission to relieve the constant strain that plagued him. He emerged with various tools, parts and, most importantly, the idea to point what’s now known as a massage gun to the injury that wouldn’t surrender. The homemade device was constructed from jigsaw and Sawzall power tools wrapped in a towel and held together with duct tape, with a foam golf ball on the end. With that, the first Theragun was born.

Theragun delivers a deep tissue massage to muscles with pounding vibrations meant to relieve pain, decrease lactic acid and increase flexibility, among other touted benefits.


An education

Unbeknownst to Wersland, he was creating a market for percussive therapy devices, all while still in school. Studying while healing was a feat riddled with its own set of challenges in the form of failed tests and delayed graduation dates.

“It was a lot, you know,” said Wersland. “But I think everyone in life deals with challenges, and that’s what I was dealing with. It’s easy to look back with 20/20 vision, but at the time, I was just doing the grind. I was doing whatever it took to do what I needed to do.”

Before becoming a chiropractor, he worked as a chiropractic assistant at an office in Beverly Hills. It was a role that gave him direct access to the office’s celebrity patients, who would later become Theragun supporters. 

Wersland said he used the homemade massage gun on himself for six months before realizing his chiropractic patients could potentially benefit from the tool as well. Once he saw improvements in their conditions, he made it his aim to give the world a pain-free way of living via his device.

Wersland realized Theragun's value while using the device on his chiropractic patients.


Theragun becomes a brand

Armed with a passion for healing, Wersland secured venture capital funding from a man named Ben Nazarian, who became his business partner in December 2015 and later Theragun’s CEO.

Within six months, the duo launched a website, a product and ultimately a company. Wersland began using the Theragun in his chiropractic work while treating celebrities and professional athletes in a private gym. Through this network, he managed to collect big-name testimonials for his products and grab the attention of professional sports leagues including the NBA and the NFL. 

“I use it before every practice, every game, stuff like that," Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones told ESPN. "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 tool has also made appearances on world music tours and on influencer and celebrity Instagram feeds. 

“Yes, the Theragun works!” model Ashley Graham wrote on Instagram Stories. ““I use it on my traps and sciatic nerve also. This is not a paid promotion, I just wanna feel good.” 

Athletes regularly endorse Theragun on Instagram, from CrossFit champion Mat Fraser to Paralympic champion Jessica Long (below).

Wersland said the company has not paid for any celebrity endorsements, despite receiving a lot of attention on social media. He attributes much of this to professional athletes truly loving the product and sharing it with their organizations. As a result, social media is the company’s primary source of marketing.

“If I was just treating my patients in my clinic with all of their issues, that’s not sexy, and they’re not posting on Instagram, it’s not growing, there’s no notoriety,” said Wersland. “But the way these guys used it ... it’s fun to post, it’s a cool product. It just kind of worked.”

While Theragun’s follower count continues to climb on Instagram, the overall company has seen immense growth in its nearly five years of operation. Its headquarters sits in Santa Monica, California, and it has a presence on six continents and employs sales representatives all over the world.

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Luxury car or massage gun?

The product model has also seen drastic changes since the beginning. Though the “original” Theragun was constructed from random shed parts, Wersland likens today’s products to luxury Tesla car models.

The device is handheld, which allows individuals to use it on themselves with relative ease. Theragun’s website states that each gun is powered by an industrial-grade Japanese motor and “engineered to precisely deliver 16 mm of amplitude into the body at a speed of 40 percussions per second,” aiming to decrease pain and accelerate muscle recovery. 

The company has released two models -- the latest G3 Pro model was designed with MIT engineers in hopes of making its motor sound quieter than its predecessor’s. And while athletes seem to attract the most media attention, the company touts that Theragun was built for all.

“It’s made for everyone,” said Amanda Henry, VP of communications. “Whether you’re a nine-to-fiver, or a mom, or a professional athlete, or a weekend warrior, there’s a place where you can use Theragun and implement it to enhance your life.”

Theragun's brand imagery emphasizes that the tool is suited for all.


Competition in a new market

With success comes both challenges and competition, however. To date, Wersland said the biggest hurdle has been educating the general public about Theragun’s benefits, while competing with cheaper massage guns that came into the market after Theragun was created. 

“I say this in humility because it’s really still shocking to me,” said Wersland. “But we created this space. We brought this thing to market and we have the knowledge and the science and the experience, and people are starting to understand that.”

With a price tag of $599, owning a Theragun isn’t cheap to the average consumer. The company is striving to show people how priceless living pain-free truly is. 

To further public education of the product, the company is planning to open a “treatment center” in the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. Once open, this will be Theragun’s first brick-and-mortar establishment, as sales have been e-commerce based up to this point. The company hopes that shoppers realize the Theragun’s price tag is worth the investment in one’s health and quality of life.

“If you go into any gym, they’re going to know what a Theragun is,” said Kevin Crowley, Accounting Manager. “But now it’s getting to that broader consumer. We can help them too. It’s not just to make you perform better, it’s to make you live better.”

Theragun is aiming to take its product, already used widely in gyms, to the broader consumer.


True wins

Though the idea for Theragun was born from a desperate desire to relieve Wersland’s own malady, the company was founded on a mission to ameliorate pain felt globally while giving people control over their own healing.

Wersland quantifies his company’s wins not by how many likes or followers its social media accounts acquire or by the level of notoriety of its influencer fans, but rather by the number of lives changed by using a Theragun. 

“The wins we have sometimes aren’t things you can post on Instagram,” said Wersland. “A win is that a person suffering from cerebral palsy discovered that this helps him, that’s a win to us.”