Soft Tissue Scraping - What Is It and Can It Help You?

Todd Sabol, MS, AT


If you are involved in athletics, weight lifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding or even a general person involved in fitness you most likely have seen tissue scraping. You may also have heard the terms Graston, IASTM or Guasha. These are all names of businesses that have copyrighted their specific courses and certifications in the same thing, soft tissue scraping. This scraping technique, although it sounds barbaric, and if you have seen pictures of it done the wrong way, can look barbaric, can provide some awesome results and provide many benefits for various people in various settings. It is also important to remember as we talk about this, the findings and studies on this treatment technique have not been extensively studied as this technique has gotten very popular in the last ten years, so more research will need to be done to observe the long term effects.

Tissue scraping is a tissue mobilization or another myofascial release technique. Using the tools helps provide a mechanical advantage compared to when only hands are being used, and this can provide deeper penetration and increased mobilization of the fascia of the injured or sore area. The proposed effects of this technique include: decreasing pain, improving range of motion, function and increased blood flow. These effects occur from the thought that the tools used can help stimulate connective tissue remodeling, repair and regeneration which in turn can improve the perceived restrictions in the fascia of the person it is being used on. It has been reported to assist in post-injury treatment and range of motion in the literature. If you guys have been reading my articles by now you have probably realized that I acknowledge research and data is great, but putting things into use and actually performing them and testing them is an awesome way to learn as well. In a lot of my treatments, I have used tissue scraping for various reasons. One of the biggest things I have found with my usage of the technique is my patient’s perception of pain being decreased, and it allows them to open up a neurologic window to improve on their current limitations. I do not think without the application of movement that this technique is the answer to all problems, but like I said, the outcomes I have had with patients has been very positive. I will give you an example: I had a guy who is a bodybuilder and powerlifter who was struggling to engage and recruit his left lattisimus dorsi as much as his right and when he would pose, you could tell a significant difference between the two. After taking him through an evaluation, we began consistent sessions of tissue scraping and corrective movement for is scapulothoracic rhythm and scapular stabilizers. We would perform the tissue scraping first, to allow more blood flow into the area, open up a neurologic window and then address the movement limitations that he was experiencing. So yes, I think tissue scraping is great and if you are struggling with certain ailments and need some treatment I would recommend it as long as it is being provided from a healthcare professional who knows what they are doing. The treatments per body area do not normally last for more than 6-8 minutes, but obviously if it is being done in multiple places it will take more time. In terms of the actual application of the intervention, you don’t want to injure the tissue. If there is evident tissue damage, it will obviously not help healing, and if anything, it will hinder the acute inflammatory process and cause a longer bout of irritation and submaximal performance. So it needs to be in the back of your head that you are getting the correct treatment and it is addressing your specific needs.

The last thing I will recommend is that you take an interest in the myofascial system and the mechanisms behind what it is, how it works and the changes that can be made to it when the proper interventions are applied. This is something that is not taught widely in traditional schooling so look around and see what you can find. I have been lucky enough to learn from some great people and am happy to point you in the right direction. If you have any other questions or inquiries into tissue scraping please let me know and always remember to #HealByMoving.