Is Graston Technique dangerous? That’s an understandable question. After all, Graston Technique instruments look a bit like modern torture devices. And you’ve heard that one of the goals is to break up (damage) tissues under the skin’s surface.
Common side effects include bruising, tenderness, and mild swelling. That doesn’t sound good!
But when you take a closer look at why Graston side effects occur, it becomes clearer that this non-invasive manual therapy may not be as scary as it seems.
What Is Graston Technique Used For?
This non-invasive method involves the use of specialized tools on the skin to disrupt the pain cycle and reduce scar tissue formation. This is also known as the soft-tissue instrument-assisted mobilization method (ISTM) and less technically as “muscle-scraping”.
The primary goal of the technique is to break down tissues in a specific part of the body so that they can re-form properly. The method will specifically target two types of tissues:
- Scar tissues (called adhesions) – These are found in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons
- Fascia restrictions – Fascia (plural: Fasciae) is a connective tissue that holds organs, blood vessels, nerves, and even muscles in place. They usually are very flexible. But repetitive, intense stress can cause problems.
First, it identifies irregularities in soft tissues in a problem area—like the foot or shoulder. These irregularities include scar tissues as well as tight and rigid soft tissues. Once identified, we precisely target the abnormalities to improve function using tools to “scrape” the muscle and soft tissues (without breaking the skin).
Once “scraped”, the body restores the tissues—but more thoroughly. This eliminates the symptoms for which you sought the treatment.
Graston technique falls into the category of functional medicine (functional treatment). This treatment focuses on the root cause of pain and other symptoms—which is often mechanical.
When your soft and hard structures aren’t working together, this dysfunction causes pain, lack of mobility, and other symptoms.
Breaking down, scraping muscles? This technique does sound harmful.
But is Graston technique dangerous or just helping the body along? That’s what we need to find out.
As it turns out, breaking down tissues to “build it better” is a natural function of your body.
How Muscles and Tissues Heal Themselves
Several restorative functions kick into action when muscle tissues are damaged (which happens when you work out). Within about five hours, your body places a temporary “cap” over the damaged fibers to protect them and prevent excess calcium from entering the torn tissue.
Then a specialized muscle cell called the “nuclei” travels to the damaged area to jumpstart the generation of new protein strands to repair the damage. Your body uses these protein strands to repair the muscle.
Under normal circumstances, this repair happens fast. It only takes approximately 24 hours.
However, ignoring injuries, not alternating muscle groups in the gym, or having a physically demanding job can interrupt the proper healing and the development of fibrous scar tissue.
This scar tissue not only prevents further healing once in place. It interferes with your body’s mechanics. Every other soft tissue now has to work around the injury.
That results in strain, pain, and other symptoms.
It may sound like the last thing you need to do is “re-injure the injury”. But when done correctly, not only is Graston not dangerous. It eliminates the scar tissue, giving your body a “re-do”. This time it can get it right.
Keep reading: Graston Technique for Pain Relief
Is It Safer than Conventional Medicine Alternatives?
When comparing it to Western Medicine, is Graston technique dangerous, more dangerous, or less?
First, conventional medical professionals like physical therapists and osteopaths often use this technique with patients. So, it can be complementary to conventional medicine.
It’s generally respected and trusted and medical professionals.
Additionally, because the technique is non-invasive, it’s inherently safer than other methods a doctor might use to treat pain, such as surgery or potentially-addictive pain killers.
Does It Work?
It’s one thing to answer: is Graston Technique dangerous? But what does that matter if we can’t answer the question: Is the Graston Technique effective? So, does Graston Technique work?
It is shown to be clinically and anecdotally effective and is currently undergoing clinical trials for plantar fasciitis and arthroscopic cuff repair. A meta-analysis, which is a look and consideration of well-down studies, found that the technique is, “noninvasive and yet effective with the right kind of therapeutic approach” and that the difference between the study groups and control groups represented “clinically significant improvement” The researchers concluded that it worked best when combined with a holistic treatment plan, including nutrition, home and guided exercise, and other therapeutic methods.
In its current form, it has been trusted since the mid-90s by sports medicine professionals and chiropractors alike as a non-medication therapeutic technique to promote faster and more effective healing of conditions like:
- Achilles Tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles tendon connecting the calf muscles to heel bone)
- Carpal Tunnel (nerve pinching in the narrow nerve ridge between wrist and hand
- Adhesive Capsulitis (shoulder stiffness/pain)
- IT Band Syndrome (Type of tendon irritation in knee and hip)
- Lumbar Strain (Low Back Strain)
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Shin Splints
- Golfer’s or Tennis Elbow
This does not prove that the technique will be effective on everyone. However, a professional can assess your unique situation to see if you may benefit from the method.
Read More: Top 5 Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
When Might It Be Dangerous to Have This Therapy?
You should not have Graston done on you if you have these conditions because it could be dangerous or make the condition worse:
- Deep vein thrombosis
- An infection
- Unhealed or poorly healed fracture
- Unhealed wound
- Taking blood thinner
- Cancer in treatment area or that has progressed to the lymphatic system
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Kidney disorders
If you’re pregnant, you should avoid having the technique performed on your spine, pelvis, or abdomen.
Is Graston Technique Painful?
Is Graston technique painful? Everyone experiences discomfort and pain differently. But the consensus is that the treatment is not painful. People generally describe minor discomfort.
After a session, it’s normal to feel soreness like when you have a significant bruise. But this only lasts a few days.
You should let us know if you experience “pain” during the technique. We can adjust the method or may need to perform other testing like x-rays or MRI to make sure something more serious isn’t causing the pain.
Is Graston Technique Dangerous?
So, can Graston technique cause damage? By definition, yes.
The instruments damage the soft tissues underneath without breaking the skin to break up adhesions and promote healing. This is part of a normal healing process and does not cause long-term damage. Any side effects will subside within a few days of a session, and expect notable improvement within a few weeks.
But is Graston technique dangerous? No. Now for most people. Graston can be a vital part of healing if you have a sudden or over-use injury.
To learn more about Graston Technique, keep reading: Graston Technique for Pain Relief.