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September 17, 2022
Serious lifters know the work put in at the gym is only part of the equation. Nutrition, sleep, supplementation, and recovery all play a role.
Although recovery is often overlooked, it can be the missing piece to unlock new potential. In recent years, athletes have started using a method called muscle scraping to improve recovery from workouts. As with most things in the fitness world, muscle scraping is a new twist on an old technique.
If this sounds like some sort of torture, don't worry. By the end of the article, it will all make sense and sound way less scary.
In this post, we'll discuss:
Muscle scraping, also called Graston Technique, is a soft tissue mobilization method that helps improve recovery from hard training and soft tissue injuries. We've all had days following a tough workout split in which we are sore. Really sore. Muscle scraping can help.
Believe it or not, the concept originated from Chinese medicine. The Chinese called it "Gua Sha," dating back to 1300 during the Ming Dynasty. During this time, they used rudimentary stones or animal bones as implements for scraping.
Typically, physical therapists and chiropractors use modern hand-held metal or hard plastic tools in different shapes and sizes to gently scrape back and forth over any muscle that needs attention.
The idea is that the scraping reduces soft tissue, muscle, and even scar tissue restrictions.
With brutal training, like that 7 day workout split you're tackling, injuries and intense soreness to soft tissues, such as muscles, ligaments, and tendons, can occur. Anything we can do to help or expedite recovery is worth exploring.
Overall, there are more positives associated with muscle scraping than negatives. If you take your training seriously, dig deeper to see if this technique is right for you.
Muscle scraping breaks down scar tissue and fascia restrictions in the affected muscle. Scar tissue reduces tissue elasticity, which causes a decrease in soft tissue function and pain. Muscle scraping can promote a return to normal functioning by removing scar tissue. Additionally, the scraping creates micro-trauma to the area.
The micro-trauma boosts a better healing environment by triggering a localized inflammation response and improving fluid circulation, shuttling blood and oxygen to the site. Just imagine how good you'd feel if you paired muscle scraping with focusing on the importance of sleep for recovery.
Considering muscle scraping? These 3 benefits may just convince you to try it.
Insufficient flexibility can decrease muscular performance and make one vulnerable to acute injuries. In fact, we recommend testing your mobility to see where you stand as less mobility may make you more injury prone.
Research shows that muscle scraping may promote an improved range of motion and flexibility by enhancing blood circulation, reducing scar tissue, and improving tendon and tissue elasticity1. Take that improved range of motion, throw some resistance band stretching into your routine, and you'll be squatting lower than you've ever been able to.
Possibly the most practical benefit of muscle scraping is how it alleviates pain. Multiple studies show promising results in rehabilitating sports injuries1. However, some of the most favorable results for pain relief come from individuals experiencing chronic pain. That's great news, because nothing is more frustrating than dealing with chronic lower back pain when deadlifting.
One study looked at subjects with chronic neck pain and found a significant improvement after only one week of using muscle scraping2. Another study found the Graston Technique helped decrease pain for people with chronic low back pain, something a large portion of the population experience3.
When you promote local blood circulation to an area to treat musculoskeletal pain while also working the connective tissue, it's going to set you up really nicely to tackle persistent muscle pain.
A study conducted with a group of weightlifters found muscle scraping during training improved weightlifting ability and reduced the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) at loads of 85% of one rep max4. That's going to help yield some serious results as you work through your strength program.
Anyone with reduced range of motion or permanent pain due to an acute or chronic injury could benefit from incorporating muscle scraping into their recovery modalities.
There may also be a performance benefit for weightlifters or powerlifters to incorporate muscle scraping intra-workout.
The most notable side effect is bruising and marks on the skin where the scraping took place. This is a temporary issue and is part of the process. If this is an issue, you should lean toward other muscle recovery methods.
Additionally, do not undergo muscle scraping if you have an open wound, unhealed stitches, or a skin infection in the area.
One other downside is price. Treatments done by a physical therapist can be expensive, so if money is tight, consider buying the tools on Amazon and performing them yourself.
There are a few different ways to perform muscle scraping. We are going to outline the Graston Technique below. It's important to not blindly muscle scrape, and to follow this technique, so you can stimulate blood flow and properly encourage muscle tissue repair.
It would be best if you warmed the muscles to increase blood flow before beginning the muscle scrape treatment. Like a warm-up before a workout, aim to increase core body temperature and get the blood flowing.
Start with five to ten minutes of light cardiovascular exercise. Exercises on a recumbent bike or treadmill are great options.
After the warm-up, start with the scraping protocol. Different areas of the body require unique tools and treatment strokes. Before using the device, apply some emollient cream to the site to reduce friction.
More cream is not better. A little bit goes a long way. Start with light strokes and gradually increase pressure, sliding the tool up and down in a controlled motion. Don't press too hard. It should be slightly uncomfortable, but it shouldn't hurt a lot.
If it is excruciating, you are doing it wrong. Spend 1-2 minutes on each affected area for eight to ten minutes in total duration.
After the scraping, spend a few minutes performing cool-down stretches, focusing on the area you just worked on to promote healing. The stretches should be low load. Perform up to three sets, and hold each stretch for 30 seconds.
Perform a few sets of high rep and low load resistance training for muscles in the affected area. This is different than your standard training. The goal is not to progressive overload the muscle to produce growth.
The last step is to minimize inflammation, soreness, and bruising by applying ice, a cold pack, or cryotherapy. There are significant benefits to ice baths if you can tolerate the frigid temps!
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about muscle scraping.
The great thing about muscle scraping is you can perform it on yourself for most areas of the body. Of course, hitting hard-to-reach places like the upper back may prove difficult. And with that said, the treatment is probably more effective if done by a trained medical professional.
You may apply too much pressure or target the wrong area when performing it yourself. A simple google search will show you where you can get muscle scraping done in your area.
There is some pain associated with muscle scraping. Like most soft tissue manipulation, it can be uncomfortable. However, the treatment edges are round and not sharp. Most people find muscle scraping is less painful than a deep tissue massage and massage ball movements.
In most circumstances, the best time for scraping muscles as a recovery modality would be on rest days from regular training or at least a few hours after a workout.
When using muscle scraping as a way to increase performance, you can experiment with using muscle scraping during your workout. Keep in mind that this is not how it is typically performed.
Although some promising evidence supports intra-workout scraping, it may not work well for you.
How frequently to perform muscle scraping treatments can vary based on your specific issue, goal, and demands of your workout. Typically, treatment is done once or twice weekly, with a minimum of forty-eight hours between sessions.
If the treatment is light, more frequent sessions work well. You can even do light treatments on yourself daily.
Some people notice benefits in as little as one week. You can expect to see benefits after three or four muscle scraping sessions. Just as you don't expect to build muscle overnight, muscle scraping also takes time for its effects to show.
How long the benefits of muscle scraping last depends on the issue. For specific injuries, muscle scraping should provide at least partial permanent relief.
However, the treatment will need to be ongoing if you use muscle scraping as a recovery modality for hard training. The same goes for injuries related to a job or activity that you repeatedly do.
Yes, muscle scraping can be very helpful for pulled or strained muscles. Scraping works well for anyone with scar tissue, fascia restrictions, and sore muscles.
Muscle scraping is very effective in relieving muscle knots or trigger points. In fact, during the scraping process, you want to look for stiff bands of muscle as that indicates areas that need attention.
When people think of soft tissue work, one of the first things that probably comes to mind is foam roller exercises. About a decade ago, foam rolling exploded onto the fitness scene. Almost overnight, every gym had foam roller cylinders for members to roll on.
How does foam rolling compare to muscle scraping?
A study in 2015 looked at just that. The research showed that foam rolling and muscle scraping effectively improved knee and hip range of motion. As both are critical for compound moves like the sumo deadlift, trust us when we say you want a large range of motion for both the knees and hips. Interestingly, the muscle scraping group observed better increases and retained more gains 24 hours post-treatment5.
You can purchase many different shapes and sizes of muscle scraping tools. They are sold both individually and as a set. We recommend buying one or two tools to start and going from there. It is more economical (and practical) to buy more tools as needed instead of getting a complete set at the start.
Want to save some money and perform the muscle scraping yourself? We've compiled a few muscle scraping tool options to help you. Your sore muscles will thank you when they get relief after performing this chest and back superset workout.
This Medical Grade Stainless Steel Gua Sha Guasha Massage Soft Tissue Muscle Scraper, which can be used for the back, legs, arms, neck, and shoulder, is a great option, with over 4,000 customer ratings on Amazon. Plus, the small design allows you to target multiple areas over the body effectively.
This longer model pairs perfectly with the smaller scraper mentioned above. The Stainless Steel Scraping Massage Tool is ideal for the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and traps.
Although not 100% required, a great emollient cream, like HawkGrips Fragrance-Free Emollient Cream, enhances the effectiveness of the muscle scraping tools.
Part of ensuring your body stays healthy and properly functioning is taking recovery seriously. Anyone who has worked out for a while knows that fitness is a lot more fun when your body feels good.
It is hard to stay consistent and have the energy to tackle a 5 day workout split or assault bike routine when dealing with excessive soreness, pain, and fatigue. Nothing replaces quality nutrition, hydration, sleep, and intelligent training, but scraping muscles can be a helpful tool to take things to the next level.
As mentioned, there are more positives associated with muscle scraping than negatives. Giving muscle scraping a shot makes sense if you take your training seriously. You have nothing to lose, and tons of feel-good muscles to gain!
Author: Kyle Hunt, Hunt Fitness
Other Recovery Techniques:
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