The Graston Technique – How It Works

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The Graston Technique - How It Works

If you’ve been to a physical therapist or chiropractor in the past, you might be familiar with the Graston Technique. This is a method of manual therapy that was born out of one man’s journey to overcome a knee injury that he sustained while water skiing.

The History of the Graston Technique

An amateur athlete, the creator of the Graston Technique was understandably frustrated by his debilitating knee injury. After pursuing surgery to fix his knee, and then physical therapy, he still didn’t experience the results he wanted. 

A machinist by trade, he applied his professional skills to create a set of tools to aid in soft tissue work. Much to his surprise, these instruments provided much-needed relief – which led him to collaborate with medical professionals to further develop these instruments and a researched technique to accompany their use. 

In the early 1990’s, the first outpatient clinic specializing in the Graston Technique opened in Indianapolis, Indiana. Today, the company offers training and research for clinicians on this method of soft tissue mobilization. 

What is the Graston Technique? 

The Graston Technique is a form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (often abbreviated to IASTM) that helps providers gauge and tend to scar tissue, fascia, and more that can often lead to issues and pain. 

The official definition of IASTM is “the use of instruments or tools to assist with the identification and/or treatment of movement dysfunction caused by pain or changes to the soft tissue structures (muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia).” While IASTM can be performed with a variety of different tools in a variety of different ways, the Graston Technique is a complete, trademarked method with a specific protocol to follow. 

This technique includes examination, warm-up, IASTM treatment, post treatment stretching, strengthening, and ice (if the affected person is dealing with inflammation).

You might be thinking to yourself, “Well, what does all of this even mean?” 

Graston Technique is performed with a stainless steel tool that the person administering the treatment holds in their hand. Using this tool, they perform a series of strokes at specific pressures to the body’s soft tissue in the certain affected areas. This manual therapy is thought to provide a mobilizing effect to scar tissue and fascia which can decrease pain and increase range of motion.

Using the stainless steel hand held tool allows the provider to penetrate deeper into the tissue and allow for a more specific treatment versus a traditional massage. It also is less tiring on the hands for the person administering the treatment – a win-win for both patient and clinician. 

The Benefits of Graston Technique

GT is designed to break up scar tissue, improve blood flow in order to decrease inflammation and improve recovery. Some of the claimed benefits include:

Faster Recovery

Because of the methods involved – GT can improve recovery times so you can get back to doing more of what you love doing – and you can spend less time doing rehab.

Less Treatment Time

Because you can recover faster – you need to spend less time being hurt, and more time moving well! We like that.

Less Pain

While most people try to address pain with expensive surgeries or pain medications – GT has helped several patientts recover and start living pain free lives.

Graston Technique Tools

As mentioned previously, the Graston Technique is unique in the fact that they specifically use stainless steel tools as opposed to other IASTM tools made from materials like wood or stone.

There are six stainless steel tools in a variety of shapes – but they all have beveled edges so the appropriate amount of pressure can be applied to the affected area. An instrument that’s best utilized on the forearm would look different than a tool that’s better used on a sensitive part of the foot. 

The six Graston Technique instruments can be seen below:

Image courtesy of: Movement Studio Melbourne

What is Graston Technique Used For? 

Graston Technique has been used in a variety of different capacities – both for acute and chronic injuries. You might use Graston for common joint pain in the ankles, hips, and neck. It could also be used to mitigate pain with chronic injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or built-up scar tissue. 

This technique can be used to reduce pain and increase range of motion. The massage portion of this technique is only one specific part of the greater protocol. The process kicks off with a warm-up to increase blood flow to the affected area. The massage with the Graston tools is performed next. After that, the provider will assist with a stretching routine and cool-down. These stretches will be complementary to the impairment you’re trying to address. Ice – or a cold pack – will be given if there’s swelling or inflammation to address. 

It is always important to work closely with a licensed provider so you can be specific and effective in the treatment you receive. 

Who Uses The Graston Technique

The graston technique is a specialized technique that is used – acdording to their website – by 2/3rds of NBA, NFL and MLB teams.

The official site claims that graston can be used to treat several common conditions. This is only a partial list:

  • Ankle Pain (Achilles Tendinosis/itis)
  • Wrist Pain (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)
  • Neck Pain (Cervical Sprain/Strain)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hamstring Injuries
  • Hip Pain
  • IT Band (Iliotibial Band)
  • Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylosis/itis)
  • Back Pain (Lumbar Sprain/Strain)
  • Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylosis/itis)
  • Knee Pain (Patellofemoral Disorders)
  • Heel Pain (Plantar Fasciitis)
  • Shoulder Pain (Rotator Cuff Tendinosis/itis)
  • Scar Tissue
  • Trigger Finger
  • Women’s Health (Post-Mastectomy and Caesarean Scarring)

Graston Technique Experience and Side Effects

If you’ve ever had a massage, you know the feeling of “hurts so good.” People who have received Graston often describe the protocol in this same way. Graston Technique feels a lot like a targeted, deep massage. There’s no denying that it can be uncomfortable during the process, but some people report feeling a sense of relief almost immediately. For others, the relief may take some time to experience. It all depends on the specific issue plaguing the body. 

You may also experience light bruising on or near where the Graston was performed. While this may seem alarming, it is a common side effect with this treatment. Again, please speak to your clinician if you have questions or concerns. 

Can You Do Graston Technique on Yourself?

Because the Graston technique is a specialized technique – the specific Graston Technique can only be administered by licensed providers. These providers have gone through specialized training to learn how to use the Graston tools and administer the protocol. 

That said – if you’re looking to try this out on your home – you can try similar technique such as muscle scraping or gua sha.

You can also do standard mobility routines in our app and use other more common tools to help with myofascial release.

Using tools such as a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or massage gun are popular ways to help relieve pain from the comfort of your own home. It’s important to do your research about the best ways to approach your specific pain points. You can find some equipment recommendations here

Where Can I Find Graston Technique Providers? 

If you’re experiencing soft tissue pain or limited range of motion, you may be thinking “Where can I find a licensed Graston Technique provider near me?” The official Graston Technique website offers a tool that allows you to search via your location to find a convenient provider near you. Visit this page to put in your geographical information and be on your way to some pain relief. 

Other Graston Technique Resources

You can check out the official Graston Technique website here.

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Joel Runyon

Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.