I’m on a massage table and a physical therapist digs what looks like a miniature metal scythe into my left shoulder. I try to stay still as he rubs along my triceps, scraping hard. This isn’t a scene from Guantánamo Bay; it’s my monthly visit to BFX Performance, a physical therapy center in New York, for fascial scraping, a painful procedure that’s supposed to help, um, relieve pain.
Welcome to the literal cutting edge of fascial care. If you’re into working out these days, there’s a good chance that you’ve done something to treat your fascia, whether that’s foam rolling, or using a lacrosse ball on your muscles, or exploring devices like the Theragun.
On the more home-friendly, less painful side of the fascia treatment spectrum sit the foam roller and the lacrosse ball. Scraping therapy sits at the extreme most painful side, alongside therapies like cupping.
Also known as Graston, fascial scraping involves a therapist “massaging” your skin with blade-like objects that do what your foam roller can’t, pressing the skin ultra-close to the fascia. That lets the therapist more directly affect this tissue. All that rubbing leads to tiny red marks, as capillaries burst right below the skin. It also promotes blood flow and realigns new fibres.
This helps you recover faster than you would by simply foam-rolling, which is why Graston is popular among pro athletes and bodybuilders. But it comes at cost, at least to your skin. Those tiny red marks add up after an average hour-long session, leaving large red marks on your body. These eventually go away, but expect to have them the next day at least.
The results, though, are often good. Graston therapy can loosen tight joints and muscles relatively quickly, especially if you’re only slightly out of alignment. It works especially well for tight shoulders, if your shoulders are rolled forward because of pectoral tightness. I’ve had several sessions at BFX where I felt good enough to bench press as soon as treatment was done.
Thing is, that doesn’t work for everyone, and you can’t expect Graston to be a cure-all. It can help realign your fascia, but if you leave a session and don’t properly stretch or reinforce good body positions, you’ll be right back on the training table in a few weeks.
Additionally, you don’t want to think of Graston therapy as your first option for tight tissues. Start addressing your tight fascia at home, because, depending on your issues, foam rolling and lacrosse ball work can get you far.
Don’t have to turbocharge your recovery? Foam-roll. But if you need to get back in action and have a high tolerance for pain, go get Graston.
By Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.