Graston Technique in Physical Therapy: How Does It Work?
With over 32,000 certified providers throughout North America, the Graston Technique is rapidly becoming a household name in the therapy world. The Graston Technique was born in 1994 when an amateur athlete became frustrated with his lack of progress following a knee injury. The athlete used his background in machinery to create special tools to help with his soft tissue injury and then built the company from an outpatient clinic in Indianapolis.
Today, Graston physical therapy treatment is known for its unique instruments, astonishing results on acute and chronic injuries, and specialized training courses. These are only offered to currently licensed therapists, medical doctors, chiropractors, athletic trainers, and other members of the healthcare community. We’re going to explore the Graston Technique further. We’ll also answer some of the most common questions around this course of treatment, like:
- Is the Graston Technique safe?
- What injury recovery processes is the Graston treatment used to treat?
- Does Graston massage work?
Let’s dive in and answer these important questions and find out how using the Graston Technique can improve whole body health!
What is the Graston Technique and How is It Used?
The Graston Technique is a form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) for injury recovery.
IASTM is defined as 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).
Graston Technique physical therapy differs from other forms of IASTM on the market. This is due to its unique instruments and protocol that has been taught and researched for over 20 years. Unlike other tools made from wood, ceramics, or stone, specialists create Graston massage tools from stainless steel and designed with beveled edges and angles to detect myofascial restrictions.
There are six Graston physical therapy instruments of various sizes and shapes that work on all parts of the body, from the neck to the delicate parts of the foot and ankle. Practitioners cannot purchase instruments from the Graston website or another vendor. Instead, they are only available to licensed practitioners who have completed the onsite or online Graston treatment training courses.
Does the Graston Technique Work and is It Safe?
Graston therapy for pain is most effective when combined with rehabilitative exercises and modalities. The entire treatment is called the Graston Protocol. Basic components of the Graston treatment protocol include cardiovascular warm up to the tissue/treatment area followed by the Graston massage technique, stretching, strengthening, and cold therapy.
Even though finding the underlying causes of pain in these areas is important, treating them is important, too. Doing both promotes whole body health.
For example, car accident neck pain may result in patients seeking out the services of a therapy professional. In this case, you know what’s causing pain and injury. But what happens if the injury is acute? Sudden hand pain, leg pain, or even arm pain lead to the need for injury recovery, sure. But what causes these things? How can you prevent them in the future?
The cardiovascular component is critical prior to initiating the Graston Technique for knee or other pain. This is because it increases blood flow to the area which optimizes the environment for healing. All areas of the body benefit from this, including the hands, arms, neck, and back.
The practitioner then applies the Graston therapy technique using specific strokes and pressure. They use the carefully selected treatment tool for a limited amount of time (usually eight minutes per body area).
Post-Treatment Stretching and Cool-Down
Afterward, the patient engages in light stretching to compliment the movement impairment and strengthening exercises with light resistance, high repetitions.
Next the practitioner applies cryotherapy, usually a cold pack. This decreases swelling or pain after the Graston Technique. This is especially useful for areas where the cold pack can be concentrated (the hands, knees and “flat” surfaces like the back or neck).
Does Graston Physical Therapy Work?
Graston physical therapy is successful due to its ability to interrupt the pain cycle and scar tissue formation.
This leads to changes in soft tissue flexibility and range of motion. The Graston massage instruments help to amplify soft tissue restrictions. This is similar to how a stethoscope amplifies the sound of a heartbeat.
That tool also becomes the treatment tool in which the clinician twists, turns and chisels away at the adhesion through the skin. They do this in order to induce controlled microtrauma to the area. By inducing microtrauma, the physician triggers an inflammatory process to promote healing and recovery to the area. Graston therapy also stimulates collagen regrowth and redistribution of collagen fibers in the correct pattern. This optimizes range of motion, flexibility, and muscle recruitment.
What is the Graston Technique Used For?
During an acute injury, the main goals of treatment with the Graston Technique are to decrease edema, pain, and to increase range of motion.
Examples of acute injuries that this technique is effective for include ankle pain, hip pain, injury recovery after a slip and fall accident, car accident neck pain, and tingling fingers and arm.
Chronic injuries that typically benefit from the Graston Technique are carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, tennis or golfer’s elbow, and lingering scar tissue. An injury that produces lasting companion injuries like a concussion shouldn’t deter you, either. It is possible to receive this treatment even when other injuries are present.
When treated for a chronic injury, the goals of the Graston physical therapy treatment tend to shift based on need and progress.
In this case, practitioners use it to disrupt fibrotic (scar) tissue in order to increase range of motion and to decrease pain.
A Graston Technique treatment for pain varies according to the body part, the patient’s current healing process, and instrument selection.
If you’re wondering, “Is the Graston Technique painful for injury recovery?” the answer to that lies in the side effects some patients can experience during or after treatment.
Potential reactions include the following.
- Discomfort or pain after Graston massage
- Bruising around the treatment area
- Spontaneous connective tissue release which occurs when scar tissue releases from healthy tissue.
Bruising also sometimes occurs due to the changes caused by the microtrauma inflicted by the instruments. This is necessary to re-stimulate the healing cycle. Sometimes, you can’t help bruising following physical therapy sessions. Speak to your physical therapist id this is an issue, and work to minimize it.
Most patients see results within 3-4 sessions. More information on what to expect during the first Graston session for injury recovery can be read here.
Is Graston Therapy Right for You?
The Graston Technique for physical therapy is an evidence-based treatment that, when used in conjunction with rehabilitative exercise, can be effective at restoring movement caused by soft tissue dysfunction.
Although results can vary, patients can typically notice improvements in pain and/or range of motion by the end of the first or second week of treatment. If you think Graston therapy may be right for you, use the BetterPT clinic location tool website or the BetterPT mobile app to find licensed Graston Technique providers. The correct treatment and application of Graston physical therapy can ease your discomfort so you can lead a pain-free life. Don’t hesitate – schedule your appointment and learn more about the Graston Technique today!
Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her bachelor’s degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. She has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.