Beyond Graston: Other (Torture) Treatment Techniques

Pain meter for Graston, Dry Needling and Scraping techniquesOver the years, I’ve tried various recovery/preventive treatments during periods of hard training. While I never used any of these specifically to treat injuries, I used them to work out potential trouble spots, and mainly to help keep my body together while running high mileage blocks.

I’ve tried Graston, Deep Tissue Dry Needling, scraping, acupuncture and waterboarding. Just kidding about that last one! Although these treatments might sound like methods of torture, and they are painful to varying degrees, in my experience they do work.

If you’re interested in giving a new treatment a try but are nervous about the pain, read on and I’ll describe each treatment and give it a rating on my Pain-o-Meter!

Graston (RED)

Pumpkin’s recent post about Graston was very informative, and I agree that it does seem like a medieval torture session, thereby earning a “RED” on my pain-o-meter! While training in Colorado years ago, I visited my chiropractor monthly for Graston sessions. During the sessions I’d grip the table doing all I could from asking him to stop, and I’d have bruises for days afterwards. But, it did seem to work out any knots and completely loosen up my legs. The pain was worth it for how it made my legs feel. My coach at the time was skeptical, and suggested that maybe the biggest benefit was mental, as it would raise my pain tolerance to make me tougher for races!

Deep Tissue Dry Needling (ORANGE)

A few notches down from Graston in terms of tortueresque is Deep Tissue Dry Needling (DTDN). I had this done weekly at a physical therapy office while running my highest mileage ever, sometimes over 100 mpw. The therapist would start with light tissue work (aka: massage), locating any trouble spots. After loosening those up, she’d move on to DTDN.

DTDN uses acupuncture needles to basically activate and release muscle tension. The therapist sticks the needle into the tense muscle, causing a spasm, which upon release, should be more relaxed. The needle itself didn’t hurt, but the muscle spasms did, ranging from twitches feeling like mild electric shocks to full on charley horses. The number of needles per session would vary, but the therapist would hit numerous points in my legs and back. Afterwards she had me soothe the areas with hot compresses and then stretch. I was normally sore for a day or two (especially in the charley horse reaction muscles), but did not have bruising.

While I do think this helped prevent injuries by working out potential muscle strains, I think it would be most beneficial for acute issues. I don’t know if it was worth the sometimes high intensity pain as opposed to regular foam rolling or doing your own active release massage. That being said, I regularly went every week, and tried it again later with a different physical therapist when I moved.

Scraping (GREEN)

Inexpensive (99 cents) tool used for scraping!

Even further down the torture scale than DTDN is scraping. An acupuncturist performed, then taught me, this technique while training for my last marathon. At a place in life where regular trips to a physical/massage therapist weren’t feasible, and time to myself (let alone recovery time, ha!) was little, this was a great method to learn. Plus, it’s inexpensive.

The tool? An Asian soup spoon that cost 99 cents! Unlike Graston, which uses metal instruments to deeply scrape the muscles, scraping uses a ceramic spoon to lightly scrape the muscles and increase circulation. Performed directly on the skin, you need to use lotion, or you can perform it over clothing to act as a glide.

During our session, the acupuncturist worked out a tight spot in my shoulder/back. She quickly ran the edge of the spoon back and forth in the same direction for several minutes. It did not hurt at all, and I felt immediate relief from my tight spot. Similar to the results of a deep tissue massage. Oddly enough, the entire area was a huge bruise the next day, despite the pain free technique. She had warned me ahead of time that this would happen, as that was evidence of increased blood/oxygen circulation fixing the damaged area.

At home, I used scraping mostly on my IT band. The first few times I performed it that area became bruised as well, but after several sessions, I no longer bruised, indicating the muscles were looser and no longer damaged.


My verdict?  I think all three of these techniques are effective. While they have varying levels of pain associated with them, I found the (muscle release) results to be fairly equal.

So why go for one of the higher pain treatments? I think in some ways, the “good for you pain” can be addictive. Maybe the immediate reaction you get from the harsher treatments seems more effective than milder treatments. Or, like my coach thought, maybe upping your pain tolerance will pay off on race day!

If you have a stubborn injury you may want to dive right in with Graston or DTDN. But if you’re looking for preventive/mild troubling issues, scraping may be a better place to start.

Have you tried any of these treatments? What worked best for you?

I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. Former competitive runner (3 x marathon OTQ & trail marathon national champion) currently working through a lingering injury. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids and moving into a new post-competitive stage.

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    1. Yes! You can probably find them at specialty shops — World Market for sure — or anywhere that sells a variety of tableware.

  1. I’m a big fan of dry needling for acute issues. I had it done on a calf strain in the spring and was running pain-free after one session and completely back to normal after two. This fall I had it performed on a high hamstring tendinopathy issue, and that one was interesting. The doctor who did that treatment actually inserts the dry needles and then hooks a STIM machine up to them and sends the electrical simulation into the muscles via the needles.

    1. I don’t know if I’ve ever had ART specifically – anyone else out there that can answer this?
      But I think the biggest difference is scraping uses a tool (like the metal Graston instruments or scraping spoon), and ART is a type of massage and the therapist uses their hands to find the trigger points

  2. When I saw a new PT over the summer, he pulled out the Graston kit and I literally flinched when I saw it. He surprised me by saying that new studies have shown that docs don’t need to kill their patients with the tool to get a positive result. He lightly went over the area and it didn’t hurt at all, but I felt better after. Yay

    1. Glad it worked for you and wasn’t too painful! I loved it, despite the pain. The doctor who I saw was pretty old, and it was several years ago, so maybe he wasn’t up to date on the new studies, haha!

  3. Ugh, my PT is a huge fan of dry needling, and I hate it so much. I don’t like any kind of needles — I pass out when I get blood drawn at the doctor — so it’s no surprise that dry needling isn’t my favorite. But I have to admit that it does seem to work miracles for me, so when things get really bad, I relent and let my PT do it. By the end my clothes are always soaked with sweat! I have kind of a chronic hamstring issue, so I’ve also done Graston, ART, cupping, you name it. They all seem to be pretty effective, but cupping made me want to throw up because it was a very specific, stomach-turning pain for me. I don’t think I’ve tried scraping, though.