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Muscle scraping is one of the newest recovery tools to hit the mainstream health and fitness market.
From muscle knots to plantar fasciitis, people are using muscle scraping tools as a quick and easy way to grab some pain relief at home.
But what is muscle scraping and is it right for you? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Read the full disclaimer.
WHAT IS MUSCLE SCRAPING?
Muscle scraping comes from a Gua Sha technique using a tool to “scrape” the skin and stimulate blood flow.
Muscle scraping focuses on treating soft tissues of the body, such as muscle and fascia, to improve blood flow, break up scar tissue, and improve mobility with specialized tools. These tools come in a variety of shapes to contour various body parts.
Scraping therapy offers a different type of soft tissue mobilization that can’t be accomplished by hand or with foam rollers. You can really feel that gritty fascial restriction as the tools glide over your skin.
Scraping is a rather broad term and goes by several aliases, including fascial scraping, muscle scraping, myofascial scraping, Gua sha, the Graston technique, and instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM).
These terms are often used interchangeably but have some differences in technique, tools used, and historical background.
Modern scraping tools are usually made from stainless steel and sport a beveled edge to work differently into the tissue than a traditional massage tool, foam roller, or lacrosse ball.
Immediately after treating an area, there may be a sensation of heat and a feeling of improved range of motion.
Muscle scraping is an excellent adjunct to your regular routine, along with stretching and mobility exercises for best results.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GUA SHA AND MUSCLE SCRAPING?
Gua sha treatment comes from traditional Chinese Medicine. In addition to treating musculoskeletal pain, traditional uses of gua sha are to treat the common cold and other respiratory issues.
Traditional Chinese medicine also uses the theory of energy meridians and acupoints, which modern scraping does not.
Muscle scraping is a modern take on gua sha therapy for musculoskeletal pain and has been used by physical therapists, chiropractors, and other bodyworkers for quite some time.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MUSCLE SCRAPING?
Muscle scraping aims to increase blood flow and decrease pain via a neurophysiologic effect, which is a fancy way of saying several body systems are working together.
Xu Q et al. found that scraping can improve blood perfusion and increase the scraping area’s temperature to promote local blood circulation and energy metabolism.
The body doesn’t like when things are stagnant. Increasing blood flow, circulation, and lymphatic drainage moves oxygen in and cellular waste out.
There is evidence that using instruments to mobilize tissue can help improve scar tissue mobility and myofascial adhesions to decrease pain and improve short-term range of motion (ROM) and overall mobility.
WHAT IS MUSCLE SCRAPING GOOD FOR?
Scraping can be beneficial for a variety of conditions and is commonly used for:
- Workout recovery
- Muscle tension
- Reduce soft tissue restrictions (muscles, fascia, ligaments, etc.)
- Plantar fasciitis
- Tennis elbow
- Achilles tendonitis
- Neck pain / low back pain
Be sure to check out my article on fascia scraping for plantar fasciitis to find out how this technique can help speed your recovery.
IS MUSCLE SCRAPING SAFE?
Scraping therapy is generally considered safe. For best results, make sure you do not have any contraindications (listed below) and are comfortable with the scraping technique.
If you’re not sure if this type of self-treatment is for you, it’s always best to check with a physical therapist.
Here are some scenarios when muscle scraping should not be performed:
- Over active infections, open wounds, malignancies, or tumors
- Over unhealed or complex fractures
- Pregnancy (consult with your doctor)
- Presence of DVT, blood clots, or thrombophlebitis
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- If you’re taking blood thinners
- Certain types of kidney disorders
- Over varicose veins, bruises, burns, or swelling
- Over some types of scars
- Over bony prominences
- Too painful or intolerance to technique
- If you’re not sure how to use the tool
Two of the most common mistakes people make using scraping tools are applying too much pressure and treating an area for too long.
Moderate pressure at most is recommended. The weight of the tool and beveled edge does the rest.
The recommended amount of time per area is approximately 20-30 seconds, as you monitor the skin for redness (petechiae). If an area is more irritated, redness will appear more quickly.
WHERE CAN I BUY A MUSCLE SCRAPING TOOL?
Sidekick is my number one recommendation for muscle scraping tools. I’ve used several high-quality brands in the clinic, and while they’re great, they’re also very expensive.
Sidekick tools are super high quality and affordable. I have several of their scrapers and I’ve been very happy.
You can read my full review of the Sidekick swerve and bow tools here.
You can also find several budget-friendly options on Amazon.
In general, you’ll want to look for a tool that has a night weight to it and that you can hold comfortably in your hand. A beveled edge helps to grip and grab the tissue.
Tools also come in different shapes and sizes to contour to different areas of the body.
IS MUSCLE SCRAPING BETTER THAN FOAM ROLLING?
I would say they’re different and what you like better is more of a personal preference.
Sandrey MA et al. looked at foam rolling vs muscle scraping in patients needing to improve knee extension range of motion. At the end of the study, both groups made good improvements and were satisfied with the intervention.
Foam rolling applies pressure to areas to help release tightness and improve blood flow. The pressure applied is deeper than muscle scraping but the feeling afterward is much different.
It’s also difficult to foam roll some areas of the body. Muscle scraper tools are very helpful for getting into smaller areas such as the arches of the feet, the forearms, and the neck.
Having both in your arsenal of recovery tools would be the best approach.
Muscle scraping tools offer a unique type of soft tissue mobilization that can’t be accomplished by hand.
Will you be adding muscle scraping to your routine?
Cheatham SW, Baker R, Kreiswirth E. INSTRUMENT ASSISTED SOFT-TISSUE MOBILIZATION: A COMMENTARY ON CLINICAL PRACTICE GUIDELINES FOR REHABILITATION PROFESSIONALS. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(4):670-682.
Matthew Lambert, Rebecca Hitchcock, Kelly Lavallee, Eric Hayford, Russ Morazzini, Amber Wallace, Dakota Conroy & Josh Cleland (2017) The effects of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization compared to other interventions on pain and function: a systematic review, Physical Therapy Reviews, 22:1-2, 76-85, DOI: 10.1080/10833196.2017.1304184
Lee MS, Choi TY, Kim JI, Choi SM. Using Guasha to treat musculoskeletal pain: a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Chin Med. 2010;5:5. Published 2010 Jan 29. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-5-5
Cheatham SW, Lee M, Cain M, Baker R. The efficacy of instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization: a systematic review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2016;60(3):200-211.
Sandrey MA, Lancellotti C, Hester C. The Effect of Foam Rolling Versus IASTM on Knee Range of Motion, Fascial Displacement, and Patient Satisfaction. J Sport Rehabil. 2020 Jul 23:1-8. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2018-0494. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32702660.