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The ‘muscle gun’ used by Jordan Henderson and others at the World Cup

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Before England’s second match at this World Cup, against the United States, midfielder Jordan Henderson strolled out onto the pitch to warm up holding a device resembling a power drill with a soft sponge over its business end.

The 32-year-old, who was named on the bench, started pressing the spongy bit onto his hamstring muscles and then applied it to the lower back of his team-mate James Maddison.

Other players at the tournament in Qatar, including Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka, Australia defender Bailey Wright and England’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, have been spotted with the contraptions too.

Athletes beyond football, including NBA basketball’s James Harden, tennis player Amanda Anisimova and golfer Collin Morikawa also use them.

But what exactly are they and what is it that they do?

What are they?

They are so-called “muscle guns” — Theraguns, officially — which cost $150-$599 (£122-£490) a time, depending on the model.

They are produced by Therabody, a company set up by Jason Wersland, a doctor who was injured in a motorcycle accident and struggled to regain full mobility in his shoulders.

Dr Wersland was a chiropractor and decided to try to create a device which would directly treat the areas in which he felt discomfort, and the first muscle gun prototype was developed in 2009. Thirteen years on, the current version comes with a range of nozzles for different kinds of treatment, you can set it up depending on your needs.

Jordan Henderson, holding a muscle gun, with his team-mates before England’s 6-2 World Cup win against Iran (Photo: Shaun Botterill – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Therabody also produces compression boots and vibrating foam rollers to aid blood circulation, and face masks to massage around athletes’ eyes and temples while they sleep.

Cristiano Ronaldo is an ambassador for the brand and Kevin De Bruyne is an investor.

Why is recovery so important for footballers at this World Cup?

This first winter World Cup for northern hemisphere nations, shifted to avoid the scorching summer temperatures in host country Qatar, has created schedules in Europe’s big five domestic leagues that are even more cramped and intense than usual — especially for those clubs also playing in the group stages of the Champions League, Europa League or Europa Conference League. Getting enough rest and making sure your body recovers following matches are essential, so players and teams are looking to find an edge wherever possible.

The short turnaround time between games at this tournament, with the whole competition being played over just four weeks, has been criticised too, including by Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni and his South Korea counterpart Paulo Bento.

Argentina and Australia only had two full days to prepare for their last-16 tie on Saturday following their final group games on Wednesday. Scaloni and his players only got back to their Doha HQ at 4am local time on Thursday after beating Poland 2-0, then kicked off against Australia at 10pm on Saturday.

South Korea and Brazil had their group finales on Friday, then met in the first knockout round on Monday. “I don’t think it’s fair to play games after just 72 hours,” Bento said.

England played their first four matches in Qatar over 14 days and finally now have a breather of five days before they face France in the quarter-finals at the Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday evening. Henderson started and scored the first goal on Sunday as Gareth Southgate’s team recorded a 3-0 victory over Senegal in the last 16.

With Qatar being such a small country — half the size of Wales and roughly as big as the US state of Connecticut — all the stadiums being used at this World Cup are within a relatively short distance of each other, so teams are travelling everywhere by coach. However, some players do use the contraptions on flights after matches to prevent stiffness setting in as they sit still for what can be several hours.

England players stretching at their training base in Qatar (Photo: Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)How do the muscle guns work?

The gadgets massage the muscles to drive extra blood flow — and therefore more oxygen and nutrients — to reach the area being treated.

They can be set to run at five speeds from 1,750 to 2,400 percussions per minute — effectively, the number of times it hits your muscle.

Most of the attachments are circular balls which you can roll over your body, but there is a triangular attachment designed for the relief of particularly bad knots.

The devices tend to be used for between five to 15 minutes.

So why do footballers use them before matches?

Some players think the devices can help activate their muscles too. By using one for up to 30 seconds on each muscle before training or a match, they can feel a boost of energy and they think it enhances their warm-up.

Henderson has said he uses a Theragun at half-time while sitting down and listening to his manager talk,  to “keep the muscles and blood flowing”.

 (Top photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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