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There are many workout recovery tools on the market competing for your attention (and dollars).
Sidekick is bringing workout recovery to a whole new level with an affordable line of muscle scraping tools, that you can use at home, to address problem areas.
Muscle scraping tools offer a different type of soft tissue mobilization that can’t be accomplished by hand. My tools were tremendously helpful for tackling muscle tension during the pandemic when getting a deep tissue massage was not an option.
Is a muscle scraping tool right for you? Find out in this detailed Sidekick tool review!
Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Read the full disclaimer.
My background with soft tissue release tools
First, I’ll give you some quick background info so you know I’m not just some internet rando raving about a tool. Because, it happens.
I started using instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) aka muscle scraper tools back in 2013 after training at a physical therapy continuing education course.
After fourteen hours of learning (and several slices of pizza along with some free soft tissue work), I was excited to add this new skill to my toolbox.
Muscle scraping tools offer a different level of soft tissue mobilization that can’t be accomplished by hand to address myofascial restriction.
I’ve used several brands of clinical-grade tools, like Hawk Grips and Graston, just to name drop a few, which are great but very expensive.
Don’t get me wrong, these clinical-grade tools are excellent and have many different shapes to accommodate different body contours. But thousands of dollars for a set is quite a pricey barrier.
I’ve also tried plenty of no-name budget tools that were just, meh, and usually ended up in the junk drawer.
As a physical therapist, I have an abnormal amount of rehab goodies just lying around the house, for myself or, you know, company.
Fast forward to 2020. I came across an ad for Sidekick on social media and immediately reached out to them. This was the first time I had seen a set of clinical-grade tools at an affordable price geared toward the public, and I was intrigued.
*Full disclosure, before becoming a clinical ambassador, I did receive the Swerve tool to test out. I was immediately impressed and only recommend quality products that I would use myself.*
So without further adieu, here’s my review of the Sidekick Swerve and Sidekick Bow muscle scraper tools (from a physical therapist who’s tried many tools).
(PS – This post is not sponsored, but I may receive a commission if you purchase through my links.)
What is muscle scraping?
First things first, what the heck is muscle scraping? I’m glad you asked.
I like to give you the background science to better understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Muscle scraping comes from a Gua Sha technique using a tool to “scrape” the skin to stimulate blood flow.
Muscle scraping, Gua sha, the Graston technique, and instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) are often used interchangeably but have some differences in technique and historical background.
IASTM is the umbrella term for any soft tissue work using specialized tools to treat soft tissue injury. Muscle scraping and Graston fall under this category.
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.
With a gua sha tool, you can really feel those gritty myofascial adhesions.
Scraping therapy is an excellent adjunct to your regular foam rolling routine, along with stretching and mobility exercises for best results.
What’s the difference between Gua sha and IASTM?
Gua sha treatment is used in traditional Chinese Medicine.
According to Soo Lee M. et al., some original tools used for gua sha scraping are a Chinese soup spoon, an edge-worn coin, and a water buffalo horn.
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 meridians and acupoints, which modern scraping does not.
IASTM (sometimes just referred to as scraping) is a modern take on gua sha therapy for musculoskeletal pain.
IASTM focuses on treating soft tissue such as muscle and fascia to break up scar tissue and improve mobility with specialized tools. These tools come in a variety of shapes to contour various body parts.
Sidekick muscle scraper tools can be used for both types of techniques.
Benefits of muscle scraping
Both gua sha and muscle scraping aim to increase blood flow and decrease pain via a neurophysiologic effect.
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 stagnant. Increasing blood flow, circulation, and lymphatic drainage moves oxygen and other nutrients 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.
Who should get a Sidekick tool?
You don’t have to be a pro athlete to use these tools. Scraping is a great option for anyone looking for muscle recovery and self-myofascial release at home.
(If you’re a fellow physical therapist reading, you should definitely check out Sidekick tools for your clinic.)
During the pandemic, my tools have helped manage muscle pain (for both my husband and me) when getting a massage was not an option.
No worries if you’re a little intimidated.
When you purchase a tool, you also get access to Sidekick University, a beginner-friendly video collection demonstrating the proper way to use each tool for various body parts.
They also have pre-recorded classes, arranged by body part. The classes lead you in using your tools plus stretching and mobility exercises to follow for maximum benefit.
Sidekick Swerve review
The Sidekick Swerve is a versatile, all-around tool. If I were only buying one tool, it would be this one.
The Swerve has a sturdy weight, and the beveled angle works nicely against the skin to grip and grab the tissue.
I was incredibly impressed with how comfortable the tool is to use yourself, especially for the upper traps, to quickly address garden variety neck pain. Some other areas to use the Swerve are the shoulders, arms, and plantar fascia.
The shape of the Swerve makes it extremely easy to hold. The beveled edge surrounds the tool, so you’re able to use both the concave and convex edges depending on your goal.
The concave side contours to the body, and the convex side allows you to target a smaller area. You can also use the short edges to work into smaller areas of the body.
The Swerve tool is made from durable stainless steel and is quick and easy to clean after use.
An emollient is needed for all soft tissue tools to allow the tool to glide on the skin. Sidekick sells a roll-on and a spray that both work well, or you can use your own. (Lotions that absorb quickly do not work well, just FYI.)
If your goal is mostly calves and feet, check out the Eclipse tool. The Eclipse’s unique shape makes it super easy to target these areas on yourself. Tightness in the calves can contribute to overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis or achilles tendonitis.
Sidekick Bow review
As nerdy as it sounds, I’ve always wanted a tool like the Sidekick Bow (at least ever since I took my course).
The Bow is a hefty tool. At 19” long, it works well for large muscles, like the quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips, allowing you to cover a lot of ground in just a few strokes.
The Bow has a long curved surface with handles at both ends. The concave side helps scrape over large areas. The convex side offers a more focused point to get deeper into these large muscle areas for trigger points.
You don’t need a lot of pressure as the tool’s weight is a solid starting point.
A unique feature of this tool is that you can hold it in such a way to work on areas of your own back. My Bow tool recently saved the day after an unexpected and painful quadratus spasm.
After using the Bow and performing a few mobility exercises, I was feeling much better.
Contraindications & precautions for muscle scraping
Of course, there are always times when muscle scraping might not be the best option.
If you’re not sure if this type of self-treatment is for you, it’s always best to check with a physical therapist before trying to do these techniques on yourself.
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
Can gua sha be harmful?
To be fair, anything can be harmful if used incorrectly.
Gua Sha is generally considered safe. For best results, make sure you do not have any contraindications and are comfortable using the tools properly.
When you purchase a Sidekick scraper, you also get access to Sidekick University, which is a video collection demonstrating the proper way to use each tool for various body parts.
One mistake that people often make when using soft tissue tools is applying too much pressure.
Moderate pressure at most is recommended. The weight of the tool and beveled edge does the rest.
Another mistake is using the tools over one area for too long.
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.
Is the Sidekick tool worth it?
For me, it’s an overwhelming YES!
Muscle scraping tools offer a unique type of soft tissue mobilization that can’t be accomplished by hand. Sidekick tools are high quality at an affordable price. You can grab a tool for less than the cost of one session with a massage therapist.
Sidekick is definitely worth a look to up your workout recovery game and help manage muscle pain at home (in between visits with your health care providers).
Muscle scraping is most effective when combined with flexibility and mobility as part of a healthy exercise routine. You can check out the Sidekick University classes to learn the best combinations for each body part.
Let me know which tools are your favorite!
You might also like:
- Mobility vs. Stability vs. Flexibility – How To Unlock Healthy Movement
- Is Foam Rolling Worth The Hype?
- How To Choose A Foam Roller (Made Easy!)
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.