Graston in the Privacy of My Own Home

The other week I went to my physical therapist and in a sudden moment of inspiration wondered why I couldn’t do Graston at home. I asked him if other patients had pondered this, and also remembered when my other physical therapist once told me that she had done Graston at a race with a butter knife. It seemed possible, and that between visits to their offices, Graston would be an effective way to manage tightness and getting the muscles to calm down in case they get really over-tight during workouts. So after my treatment, I took a picture of a typical set of Graston tools:

This trusty set cost over $4000! And is only available to licensed practictioners of Graston. Well, I wasn’t going to get a set that way for sure. Undaunted, I headed down to Westfield Valley Fair Mall and checked out Williams-Sonoma. There were plenty of kitchen gadgets there for sure, but nothing seemed sturdy enough to mimic Graston tools. I then went over to Pottery Barn and found what I was looking for in their dinnerware section. The utensils of various sizes and shapes were perfect! And even more perfect was the fact that there was a holder full of single utensils; I didn’t have to pay big bucks to buy a 4 place setting set! I could buy singles. So I selected a bunch to try:

Graston’s set: $4000+, my set: $22!
The hard part is seeing if you can get the same effect with the shape of the utensil, as you can with a Graston tool. Through experimentation, Graston tools were organically derived for many purposes by a physical therapist who was also a metalworker. So I started applying these tools to my body to see which ones would work best.
My favorite is the one at the bottom of the picture. It is the spoon which has a square-ish shaped handle. I also bought a butter knife with the same handle and the back of the blade is actually pretty good, but just a bit dangerous when you’re using force against your muscles; butter knives are much duller than steak knives, but you can still cut yourself! Still, I may try to file down the blade so it is less sharp. For now, the spoon works great. (By the way, spoons are allowed on carry-on luggage unlike butter knives so I can bring this around with me when I travel.)
It is the edge that is the secret. If it’s too rounded, you can’t dig into your muscles enough. And if it’s not sharp enough (with a broken/not-razor edge), you can’t feel the vibrations of the tool which signal you passing over adhesions in the muscle. If you examine Graston tools, you’ll find that their edge is actually a (small) rounded edge with a bladed area of about 45 degrees. It allows you to make these “slicing” motions into the muscle, as if you were trying ot shave off a chunk of flesh.
One downside of the spoon; it is too small to get a good grip on to really start digging into your muscles. Graston tools are much more beefier and you can get your whole hand around it to really apply some force to your muscles. When the tool is not so beefy, it is hard to really get force. Maybe that’s ok; I am still gunshy about really putting lots of scraping force into my muscles for fear of screwing myself up! But hey, what’s life without some adventure?
What I’ve learned about applying Graston to yourself in the privacy of your own home:
1. Get Graston done on you first. Don’t attempt this without watching someone who knows what they’re doing and feeling it done to yourself. It’s the best way to learn about how it should feel from the patient side. Plus, you can watch and remember the motions and strokes, and how to apply the tool to yourself. You need to learn the various methods of moving or not moving your muscles during application, what to be careful of and what is ok. You can also get a sense for how much force should be applied, and also most importantly, learn what adhesions in your muscles feel like.
2. Develop a sensitivity for feeling adhesions and knots in your muscles with your fingers first. Take some lotion (I use Aveeno) and rub it on the muscle. Then run your fingers across the muscle. If it feels relatively smooth, it has little or no adhesions or knots. But if it does, it can feel like a surface of small potato chip crumbs as it makes this crinkly kind of feeling when you move across it. It can also feel like a bunch of nodules, or it can be one big harder area.
Then develop the sensitivity with the tool itself, as it scrapes across muscles. It will feel as if you’re running the edge across a surface of small gravel sometimes, or just a rough surface. Try also running it across other muscles, like your forearm which, for me, is pretty smooth. Then you’ll know what non-adhesion filled muscles feel like. Another way to find adhesions and knots is to use a foam roller. This is especially good for larger muscle groups. When you roll onto a big knot, it will feel like a big hard lump and will be painful when you hit that area with the roller.
3. When apply my spoon, I generally keep to the larger muscle areas and shy away from joints. I don’t like the thought of accidentally affecting the tendons or hitting a nerve bundle or bone. That would not be a good thing.
4. I usually start off lightly and slow in the stroke. I can gauge how my muscle feels with the spoon being applied and make sure there aren’t bruises or some kind of acute pain there as I move the spoon across the area. I don’t like to overtreat areas as that may cause greater damage. I also keep away from areas that are bruised, either by me, or from a professional ART or Graston session. You gotta let bruised areas heal; it’s not good to keep bruising them up. Bruises tend to restrict motion.
If, after the lighter and slower strokes, I do not feel too much extra pain, I apply more pressure to get deeper into the tissue. Sometimes I increase the speed of the stroke and sometimes I keep it slower. There is definitely an upper limit to speed and I think that extra speed does not work well. It seems to be more the pressure and amount of strokes than stroke speed.
After a few strokes, I feel the area with my fingers. I almost always feel a smoothing out of the area as the adhesions get broken down. I then do another set of strokes, feel the area again, and maybe I’ll do it once more. I don’t have a set amount of stroke-and-inspect sets to do; it’s kind of something I just know that I should stop or go one more. Definitely doing too much is a bad thing.
5. After scraping the muscles, I often will get some more lotion and apply some long, massage strokes to clear out some any fluids that may have accumulated and to help blood flow into the area.
6. I also vary my muscle condition, scraping it in stretched and contracted positions. I also sometimes flex the muscle to really tighten it as I scrape; very tough since it hurts a lot! But varying muscle condition sometimes exposes adhesions which are not apparent while in a rested condition.
7. I find that results are often immediate. Certainly, after a few hours, many aches and pains and tightness magically go away. Wow! All from a spoon and some lotion!
8. You’ll find that you’ll never be able to use as much force as another person scraping your muscles. You really don’t need that much anyways.
9. I also know that there are areas I can’t self treat because I can’t reach them, or I can reach them but I can’t apply enough force on the spoon to make a difference. These are areas like my lower back and my hamstrings. Bummer!
By the way, I can’t recommend this to anyone. If you do something wrong, you could really hurt yourself. Treat this article as a curiosity and for knowledge purposes only. Go find a great Graston practictioner and get treated the right way.

  • Bryan

    Practitioners who learn these techniques in school do them to each other using utensils and reflex hammer handles until they can afford to buy the real deal. You can buy plastic tools online or jade instruments that are used in gua sha.
    I would like to emphasize one thing. The last comment. Trying this on yourself is a bad idea even if you have had GT a few times. One of the biggest components of the technique is stretching the area and then strengthening specific muscles. The most effective stretches/exercises are not always given on the first several visits as many cannot tolerate them.
    On another note, someone who has done it to themselves in the past may feel they can do it to others or for new problems and not seek proper care. The best bet is to see a GT provider and get treated from someone who has the time and training to know when and when not to do this technique.

  • Terry

    I use a 15/16″ Sears Craftsman Wrench with a smooth chrome finish. I prefer it over silverware which I have also used. The length is similar to the longest Graston instrument so you can apply more pressure and hit larger areas for spots like the IT band and quads.

  • Interesting and daffy, IMO. Graston is to break down fibrosities that build up, perhaps over a period of time and not from simple muscle tightness. This is probably what’s keeping you from destroying your muscles/fascia.
    I’ve had Graston on two occasions for separate problems – worked beautifully both times – and I have to confess, I had thoughts of DIY Graston using kitchen implements.
    But Graston is a profound treatment, not for Mickey-mousing around with one’s own body. For long-term damage that hasn’t gotten better and isn’t going to get better. I’d give DIY Graston a pass.

  • Peter Borten

    Came across your blog and thought you might like to read an article I wrote. I noticed another commenter mentioned gua sha. I fully support your using whatever tools you can get your hands on.

    The Amazing New Technique … That’s Been Sweeping the World for the Past 2000+ Years

       Since at least several hundred years B.C., people in Greece, India,
    China, and elsewhere have used a technique of applying friction to the
    skin in order to resolve pain and treat deeper medical disorders. The
    Greeks called it “frictioning.” The Chinese call it Gua Sha.

      The technique involves using the hands, a piece of coarse cloth, or, more commonly, a ceramic spoon, a coin, a dull, thick blade, or the edge of a jar lid, to repeatedly stroke the skin until it becomes red. Virtually everyone in China (and much of the greater East Asia) knows basic Gua
    Sha, and parents routinely perform it on their children for colds and flus. Virtually every acupuncturist knows Gua Sha, too.

      Practitioners of Chinese medicine usually employ it to treat communicable diseases, conditions of internal toxicity, and to release tight tissues to alleviate pain and stiffness. Gua sha also has an extensive history of successfully treating cholera, a form of epidemic diarrhea. 

    Frictioning techniques were initially understood by the Greeks as counteracting an existing condition – shifting the body’s attention by
    causing irritation (called “counter-irritation”) or a healing crisis
    elsewhere in the body. The minor trauma the technique caused was thought to elicit a broader healing response by the body, which would
    frequently resolve whatever other issue a person was grappling with.  

    The Chinese understand the technique as releasing something (pathogenic factors, such cold, dampness, stagnant blood, and toxins) through the surface of the body, and invigorating local circulation. Gua means “to scrape or scratch.” Sha means a sickness or evil that is retained in the body and also its rash-like expression when Gua Sha is performed. That is, Gua Sha is the process of intentionally bringing Sha to the surface. Other terms, such as Pak Sha (“pak” means “to slap”) and Xian Sha (“xian” means “to pinch”), describe different ways of eliciting Sha.

      It has been said that, “Gua Sha is to an Asian family what chicken
    soup is to a family in the West.” Because this practice is so
    ubiquitous, and so humble, it’s especially absurd that opportunists in
    the West have reframed this method as some sort of brand new, cutting
    edge medical technique, dubbing it the Graston Technique and Astym
    (among other monikers). What’s more, I know people who have paid large sums to receive these techniques, under the impression that they are culmination of modern Western scientific research. 

      For instance, the Astym website features the question, “Can’t I just do this myself?” and the response: “You can only get the results ASTYM treatment delivers from a certified ASTYM therapist…. The ASTYM system’s outstanding results can not be achieved by picking up something you have at home and rubbing it along your skin. If this worked, there wouldn’t have been any need to spend years on the research and development process.” Millions of acupuncturists and Chinese lay people would beg to differ.

      Don’t get me wrong. I do think it’s worth paying a trained medical
    professional to help you deal with your pain. And while I’ve never received The Graston Technique or Astym from a professional, I wouldn’t be surprised if they work – because I know Gua Sha works. I have performed it on hundreds of my patients and I’ve taught workshops on it to dozens of practitioners who have then shared their success stories with me. My purpose is not to disparage these Western spin-offs, but to illuminate the true historical context and persistence of this technique. Medicines don’t stick around for over 2000 years if they
    don’t work!

    Be well,
    Dr. Peter Borten, LAc, DAOM

    Anyway, you may be interested to check out gua sha and shoni shin (a
    somewhat similar Japanese technique) tools. Gua sha tools usually don’t
    have as sharp an edge as Graston tools, but, from what I’ve heard,
    people experience Graston as pretty painful, whereas gua sha doesn’t
    need to be, and I believe it’s just as effective.

  • Teej999

    Has anyone thought of using the back edge of a hard plastic comb? I was wondering if it would offer similar benefits as the curved edges of the Graston instruents?

    • dshen

      In theory you could. However, I do not think most combs are durable enough to last through multiple scraping sessions. There are plastic tools that are made for scraping treatment though. People have used real tools like screwdrivers and the handle of a large crescent wrench.

  • Karlee

    This is an awesome article. I do EXACTLY this with my silverware and I too get Graston done at PT, but sometimes the knots can’t wait and they’re too painful! Thanks for confirming that this can be done correctly if done carefully, although a professional really is your best choice. 😉
    I’m gonna buy some Gua Sha tools and try them. So cool!

    • dshen

      Great! I’m glad we’re all coming out of the Graston closet! For some of the best tools, are awesome. Try those!

  • Kat R

    I had ASTYM massage done to my right foot plantar fascia – and it worked amazing! I was doing smth similar before just not as rough. Shouldn’t feel sorry for myself and just go for it!

  • Ericka Norris

    I’m a potter. The tools we use called “ribs” are perfect for this, they are wood or silicone (do not use the metal ones u will cut yourself). They ribs come in many shapes and sizes they fit one’s hand to apply pressure to clay. I can get a good amount of pressure with out hand fatigue. And they are $2 to $5 .

    • dshen

      Nice! Traditional gua sha tools are made of bone. There are those who sell IASTM tools made out of plastic.