IASTM/Graston Vs. Deep Tissue Massage – How are they different?

Nicole ClarkIASTMLeave a Comment

As a Chiropractor, I’ve known about the Graston technique for a long time, but over the last few years, other similar treatments and tools have started becoming popular. These include Gua Sha, Hawk Grips, the Echo Muscle Reliever etc. Whether we are referring to Graston, Gua Sha or any similar tool, these all fall under the IASTM umbrella and therefore their effects will be similar. The results of IASTM are quite different from a massage and I hope to clarify them in this article. Since I am certified in Graston, I will reference specifically the Graston technique, but similar benefits apply to other tools such as Gua Sha.

The first time I had the Graston technique performed on me was during their weekend certification course. I had just had a soft tissue treatment done on me and was covered in bruises all over my entire body.  It literally look like I had just fallen out of a 2 or 3 story building, but I felt amazing and had more range of motion and freedom in my muscles than ever before!

Just about every square inch of my body had been scraped and ran over with the shiny metal instruments in Graston’s repertoire.  Bruising isn’t always a normal response, but I’d obviously had years of stagnant, fibrous adhesions just begging to be broken down and perhaps an overzealous learning partner too. I’d never had anything else like it, but Graston changed and revolutionized the way I saw how soft tissue treatments were performed.

I remember someone in the class had likened the sensation to a deep tissue massage, however, I’d never felt like this after a massage of any kind.  This felt like it was specifically geared towards someone like me, someone in tune with every muscle and how they influenced others in the chain of movement.

But how is Graston really different from a sports or deep tissue massage, and what are the benefits?

1. Target hard to reach adhesions and fibrous tissue

A set of Graston tools come in various shapes and sizes each designed for all the unique places on the human body.  The different contours allow every body part, even the immensely difficult ones, to be stripped out and allowed to move the way they were intended to. A masseuse normally stick to use their hands, making it much less efficient and targeted.

2. Greater Efficiency

Having specific tools allow the provider to work on larger surface areas and more tissue in the same time span it would take to use their hands on that same area.  Sometimes if someone has a ton of stagnant tissue in a large muscle group, it can take the full amount of time to really release the tension on those areas.  The Graston tools allow greater efficiency and consistency, which means quicker results, thus allowing the provider to move on to other areas on the body that need treatment.  This helps lead to superior and faster recovery times as well being able to see more patients overall.

3. Consistent and Even Pressure

Even the most skilled deep tissue or sports massage therapist gets tired of consistently applying such deep pressure for an extended period of time.  The tools allow the provider to give the same characteristic deep pressure, but allow them greater stamina and consistency too.  Some may argue that using these tools allow therapists to get a little deeper into the tissue as well.

4. Graston can help prevent provider fatigue

The tools also ensure that the provider will be less likely to get fatigued during an intense session, which helps them in the long run save on wear and tear on their body, which of course is a concern with some massage therapists after doing the job for a number of years.

5. Eliminates Scar Tissue and other Soft Tissue Injuries

Graston actually targets and breaks up the adhesions and scar tissue that have accumulated in the muscles due to repetitive stress, yet it also promotes proper healing and formation of new, healthy muscle tissue.  While deep tissue massage also does this, it stands to reason that Graston may allow more specificity and coverage of the unique body surfaces.  With the tools being able to specifically focus on the origin-insertion sites of muscles, tendons, and ligaments, you really notice areas that haven’t been adhesion free start to loosen up and move in the firing pattern they were meant to.  Personally, I had some areas that had developed tendonitis (elbow/shoulder) from years of overuse return to their almost normal range of motion and flexibility.

6. Graston has great benefits for a myriad of disorders.

Not only does Graston greatly benefit athletes, it really is for anyone!  I’ve seen wondrous results with Graston and long term issues like plantar fasciitis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and other soft tissue disorders otherwise thought of as having no recourse or solution to the chronic muscle pain associated.  It would make sense that a soft tissue mobilization technique like Graston or massage would help with the treatment of chronic fibrous adhesions in one’s muscles, but Graston’s unique ability to target specific regions with consistent, deep pressure appears to greatly help these patients.

This article isn’t written to dissuade potential patients from trying deep tissue massage, clearly there are numerous benefits to getting regular massages (take it from someone who does!), but merely to educate people on the uniqueness and results that may be available via IASTM or Graston use.  For patients who struggle with soft tissue issues, or providers looking to try and gain better treatment outcomes, Graston or IASTM might just be the new tool to help get the results you’ve been looking for.

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Nicole Clark

Nicole Clark is a U.S. trained and licensed physiotherapist who became interested in physiotherapy through her experience as a competitive swimmer and runner. Nicole earned her Master of Science in Physiotherapy from Springfield College in 2003, graduating with honors. Her thesis was accepted to the Combined Sections Meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association in 2004. Nicole has sought post-graduate clinical education in such topics as trigger point dry needling, advanced treatment of the foot and ankle, orthotic fitting, corrective exercise, and joint mobilization.

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