Ian Nurse, DC is a regular contributor in the Body Shop section of our magazine. This article originally appeared in the Sept 2012 edition.
As endurance athletes, rarely does a day go by when we don’t have some sort of ache or pain. Some seem to disappear as quickly as they emerge, while others will linger for days, weeks, months, and even years. Every runner or triathlete that I either train with or treat, seems to have that one nagging injury that has never healed no matter what he or she has done to treat it. I was one of those people as well, until I was introduced to a new treatment option called Graston Technique.
What has now become the norm at elite-level training centers and the offices of sports-minded chiropractors and physical therapists, Graston is hard to describe without sounding like a scene stolen from a horror film. Despite its reputation as being a therapeutic form of torture, Graston is a proven means of treating chronic soft tissue injuries (muscle, tendon, ligament, nerve, and fascia). Utilizing state of the art stainless steel tools with a beveled edge, Graston is an extremely effective means of breaking up the scar tissue that causes the pain we all deal with everyday.
Having never heard of the Graston Technique before entering chiropractic school, I was a little apprehensive when my clinician in the campus clinic suggested using metal tools to help with my chronically tight and sore hamstrings. The idea of scraping steel across my already irritated muscles seemed more medieval than therapeutic. However, after years of frustration, trying everything—physical therapy, massage, strengthening, stretching, ultrasound, and electrical stim—I was willing to give it a try. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I remember thinking, “I already run in pain.”
Interestingly, it was not the discomfort that I remember the most from that initial Graston treatment but rather the sound that was being produced with every pass over my hamstrings. The only way to describe it is to imagine someone scraping a metal tool over a gravel road. After years of running up and down hills and around a track chasing far faster guys than myself, my hamstrings had taken a beating. Every little knot and fibrotic adhesion were now singing in full glory under the stainless steel tool being rubbed over them. Thankfully, with each pass of the Graston tool over my hamstring, the grating sound became softer and softer as the scar tissue was breaking up.
As you can see, one of the amazing benefits of these tools is that they help clinicians detect the location of the damaged tissue both through sound and also through feel. The tools enhance each and every little bump and fibrotic catch along soft tissue structures. Once the injured tissue is located, the tools help realign the damaged fibers and break up the scar tissue that has formed allowing the body to then absorb it. Using a cross-friction type of massage with the tools, which involves brushing or rubbing against the grain of the scar tissue, the practitioner actually re-introduces small amounts of trauma to the affected area. This temporarily causes inflammation in the area, which in turn increases the rate and amount of blood flow in and around the area. The theory is that this process helps initiate and promote the healing process of the affected soft tissues.
At this point, most of you are probably wondering one thing: just how painful is it? Coming from someone who has had Graston treatment to most of his lower extremity at some point over the last three and half years, I can honestly say that it’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds. It actually feels pretty good, especially as the practitioner warms up the tissue with a lighter pressure. After this initial warm-up period, the damaged tissue is localized and a deeper pressure is then applied. Depending on the severity of the injured tissue, it can get slightly uncomfortable with deeper pressure; however, a good practitioner knows to only apply that stronger pressure for 5-10 seconds. I make it a point to always count down from 5 seconds for my patients so they know just how much longer they have to endure. I often ask my patients, “Do you want to continue to train everyday in pain, or have a few minutes of discomfort here and get rid of this problem for good?” The answer is pretty obvious for most.
Surprisingly, after my initial treatment not only was I running the next day, but there was a dramatic difference in the flexibility and strength of my hamstrings. I was encouraged! Following a few more treatments, I continued to see improvements. Most importantly, I was no longer running with that annoying tugging sensation at the top of my hamstrings. I was converted into a true believer in Graston.
Now, as a chiropractor and certified Graston Technique provider (not to mention, still a frequent patient), I am the one trying to reassure apprehensive patients of all the different conditions that can be effectively treated with Graston—carpal tunnel, headaches, muscle strains, ligament sprains, tendonitis, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis. While not every injury requires it, Graston is just one more tool (pun intended) in addition to treatments such as Active Release Technique (A.R.T.), that we have to use to help treat soft tissue injury. I encourage you to give it a try or inquire with a certified provider about it. I have seen the amazing results not only on my patients but also on my own disgruntled body.
Please feel free to email me with any questions you may have. You can also learn more from Graston’s web site, http://www.grastontechnique.com/ or by checking out this YouTube video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6uIwTixqu0.
Ian Nurse is an avid member of the Boston running community having competed in hundreds of road races within the New England area. Ian is a licensed chiropractor and a certified provider of Active Release Technique (A.R.T.) and Graston Technique at his Boston practice, Wellness in Motion.
If you would like to read more from our Sept 2012 issue, click here.