Q: What is the Graston Technique? Someone suggested I try it for an old thigh muscle tear that still gives me problems.
A: The Graston Technique (GT) is a type of “soft tissue mobilization” that uses specially designed stainless steel tools to break up scar tissue (adhesions) that form as a result of injuries, such as strains and sprains or chronic overuse. Adhesions can restrict movement and cause pain. Using the tools, the practitioner does an intense (often painful) deep massage, which causes microtrauma (essentially, re-injuring the area to a lesser degree)—and this supposedly initiates an acute healing process.
GT is done by some physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists, and athletic trainers. Many dancers and athletes, among others, swear by it—for conditions ranging from neck and back pain, rotator cuff tendinosis, and tennis elbow to piriformis syndrome, plantar fasciitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and shin splints. It is typically done two times a week for four to five weeks.
The GrastonTechnique.com website claims “positive outcomes” for 75 to 90 percent of all conditions treated. But as with other physical therapy or manipulative techniques, it’s hard to say how effective it really is, since there’s little solid evidence behind it. Most published papers on it are individual case reports, pilot studies, abstracts presented at meetings, or animal studies. Some have combined treatments so you don’t know what might be responsible for any benefits.
In one small randomized controlled study in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation in 2012, young people with a history of chronic ankle instability underwent four weeks of balance training with GT, sham (fake) GT, or no GT. All groups reported improvements in pain, function, range of motion, and ankle control regardless of whether they received GT. Clearly longer, larger, and better studies are needed.
If you are considering GT, keep in mind that because it is so vigorous, it should be used cautiously (if at all) in many people. That includes (but is not limited to) people with acute inflammatory conditions, neuropathies, and osteoporosis. If you are taking anticoagulants, the therapy could cause excessive bruising.