If you are someone who is getting into exercise, you may have heard about the importance of recovery. Even the most seasoned athletes confess that they know recovery is crucial for their performance, but still are unsure of the best tools for their individual needs. While it may have been acceptable in the past to finish your workout with a half hearted quad stretch, we now know that our bodies need much more than that to maintain (or increase!) optimal function. Today, we wanted to compare the benefits of scraping and percussive therapy: two of the most popular tools used by clinicians and consumers.
What are Muscle Scraping and Percussive Therapy?
Both scraping and percussive therapy are techniques heavily utilized by clinicians to help restore or maintain movement. Recovery tools are seen as an upgrade from traditional massage because their unique designs provide myofascial release that cannot be seen without tools or through normal stretching alone.
Muscle scraping is a popular technique used by clinicians and consumers to increase blood flow to an injured area. It’s inspired by one of the oldest techniques in Chinese medicine called Gua Sha which translates to scraping away (Gua) energy blockages (Sha). Scraping has been known to improve function in areas where healing has slowed due to adhesions or poor circulation from injury. The mechanical process elicits an inflammation signal to the body which promotes blood flow and improves healing time. Scraping provides near-instant relief to soft tissue injuries and is beneficial for people experiencing tightness and tension from repetitive movements. Scraping has also been proven as an effective proactive treatment, as the process of scraping can lengthen tendons and can prevent injuries.
Percussive therapy has become increasingly popular in the form of handheld tools such as massage guns. Percussive therapy targets sore muscles through a series of short pulses that are able to reach deep below the skin’s surface to increase blood flow and oxygen for recovery. The device provides rapid bursts of pressure and because the device is moving on and off your body so quickly, your brain time to acclimate the same way it would with a traditional massage. This allows the device to penetrate deeply with minimal discomfort and can reduce the impact of delayed onset muscle soreness( DOMs) and improve range of motion.
What’s the difference?
Percussive therapy works as a method that applies rapid-fire force to the area where you are using the tool. The motion offers a continuous ‘on and off’ repetitive pulse to the skin which can produce a tenderizing effect on tight bundles of muscles providing relief and relaxation to the affected area. Percussive therapy provides a pattern disrupt to the brain’s ability to register the experience as painful.
When you’re looking at percussive products, the options for consumers vary greatly by price. The more expensive gadgets are usually due to their speed and variability in intensity, allowing you to target multiple muscle groups differently and more deeply with the same device. While instant improvement to range of motion may be felt, the result is not lasting because this type of therapy does not lengthen the soft tissue the same way that scraping can. Percussive therapy is a great post workout to prevent the onset of DOMs and is also a great option for someone who is looking to combat muscle tightness and feel relaxed.
Scraping offers similar benefits with tension relief, but has also been shown to lengthen the soft tissue which can prevent injuries proactively. This means that not only can you feel better in the moment, but the impact of using the tools has long term benefits as well.
In addition, scraping creates a very localized pressure that only a refined treatment edge of a scraper can produce. Percussive products are generally blunt (and you wouldn’t want anything sharp rapidly firing into your skin any way). For this reason, you’ll often see Petechiae (bright red spots) form while you scrape. This is an indication that stagnant blood vessels are being broken up, leading to the reconstruction of new vessels. This increases blood flow and recovery.
Scraping tools can also vary in price, and this is largely due to the design of the product. In order for the tools to be effective, you need the proper treatment edges to allow you to target different areas of your body more effectively. The more expensive tools are due to the technical features that allow a clinician, athlete or consumer to use the tool multiple times a day without experiencing hand fatigue.
Benefits of both tools:
When you are starting to prioritize recovery in your routine, stretching and mindfulness are a great place. But if you are looking to reverse poor postural habits of modern life or improve post workouts recovery, adding tools to your recovery stack that allow you to go beyond a superficial stretch will have far more long term benefits.
The benefits you can get from using either (or both) tools is:
- Easy to use with instruction
- Quick relief from pain and tension
- Cost effective when compared to multiple visits to see a clinician, and a perfect solution to ensure recovery is not neglected while we are all spending more time at home.
- Reduced hand fatigue and improved experience for clinicians and consumers alike.
- Both are said to assist in breaking up adhesions, scar tissue, and smooth areas of thickened fascia.
- Both are designed to help athletes perform better and recover faster, and those benefits translate to the average consumer or fit person as well!
Why we recommend Scraping:
We love scraping because it provides a connection with your body that you can’t get from percussive therapy. Percussive therapy tricks the brain into allowing treatment through its rapid pulse movement. This can be beneficial for an over sensitized nervous system, but for most people, it is more useful to understand which areas require treatment using biofeedback. Biofeedback is a useful self assessment tool that will allow you to understand, scan and assess areas that require treatment. When you are scraping, you can move the tool over your body and based on how it feels, you can understand where your body needs it most. The act of scraping can be incredibly Zen, many people have mentioned they find the repetition and connection with their body to be soothing in addition to the tension relief benefits that it provides.
The highest quality scraper is much more affordable than an entry level percussive tool, and does not require additional maintenance or batteries. Scrapers are silent compared to percussive guns and the tools are smaller, lighter and more travel friendly. Scraping tools don’t have parts that may break down or wear out over time. If you take care of your tool, it will stay in the same condition you bought it in for years to come. Percussive tools also should not be used on the neck, and scraping tools are a safe and effective way to provide neck pain relief from soft tissue injuries and tech neck.
The bottom line is both of these tools are great options for your routine and can actually compliment one another as a part of your recovery stack. They both can lead to relief and feelings of relaxation, and both have mechanisms that can contribute to quicker recovery by stimulating blood flow to the treatment area, allowing for faster healing times. Both tools are easy to learn how to use and will quickly pay for themselves if you have to book fewer sessions with your physiotherapist, chiropractor or massage therapist. If you can only afford one tool, we recommend getting started with a scraping tool. With more time on the market, a more affordable price point, and a better mechanism for scanning and assessing your body’s needs, we feel this is the best tool to help combat tension and provide relief.