One of the most popular treatment options I provide is commonly called “scraping” by the athletes who request it. The official name for scraping is “Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization” (IASTM) which is definitely a mouthful. You will also hear this treatment referred to as “Graston” because the Graston Technique is one form of IASTM.
Clinicians like athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists can take courses provided by the various instrument companies. These companies train the provider to use their tools in a safe and effective manner. Most of the tools are made of stainless steel but some may be hard plastic or ceramic. In addition to Graston, other company names include Hawkgrips and RockTape.
So what does scraping do? First let’s have a tiny anatomy review. Our muscles are covered in a connective tissue called fascia. You can think of this as being like a sausage covered in a casing. Our muscle is the sausage and fascia is the casing. Repetitive movements like long distance running cause the fascia to crinkle up. Clinicians call this crinkling “myofascial adhesions”. This crinkling doesn’t feel good – our bodies interpret myofascial adhesions as pain or tightness. Scraping the area with a tool can resolve the adhesion by mobilizing the tissue.
This treatment is most effective prior to an exercise session. Your clinician may have you do a brief warm up and may have you stretch the area immediately after. Scraping can be done safely even right before a race. It should not be done on the same body part on back to back days.
Potential side effects are small, light bruises from the increased surface blood flow. Light bruising is perfectly normal but it should NOT look like you’ve been beaten with a baseball bat. If you bruise significantly, please let your clinician know. This treatment can also be slightly uncomfortable. Part of the reason it is called scraping is that it feels like being scraped with a butter knife! However it should NOT be terribly painful. If you are experiencing a lot of pain during the treatment, please alert your clinician right away so they can be more gentle.
This is a brief summary of the basics and as always I am happy to answer any questions you may have!