When you think of muscle recovery, your mind probably jumps to foam rolling, ice baths, cryotherapy, and massage guns – not scraping your muscles with a smooth stone…
Indeed using a simple metal tool to “scrape” or “brush” over your muscles with the goal of creating an inflammatory response has been shown to create a number of surprising health benefits…
In this article, we’ll explore all these benefits and the research that supports them, and why you should consider scraping your own muscles!
1. Muscle Scraping Decreases Pain
Muscle scraping (otherwise known as IASTM) has been shown to effectively decrease pain and desensitize the area that you’re targeting, with research showing it’s an “effective treatment intervention for reducing pain and improving function.”1https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10833196.2017.1304184?journalCode=yptr20
Blood flow is essential to calming down pain — think of running water in a stream vs. sitting water in a pond.
The pond water is usually more green and dirty, whereas the running water is clearer and flushes through any dirt.
Our body is similar — if the blood moves freely through our tissues, it’s able to keep things well oxygenated and happy, resulting in less pain.2https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9928775/
Having it move slowly puts the body at a disadvantage, and creates an environment for pain to thrive.
2. Muscle Scraping Breaks Down Adhesion Buildups
One of the biggest benefits of muscle scraping is its ability to break down adhesion buildup, or “sticky tissues.”3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331993/
There is a type of connective tissue in our bodies called “fascia,” which separates and surrounds our muscles, vessels, nerves, and organs.
Sometimes, there are adhesions that build up in this tissue, which is basically like gluing our fascia to different structures.
Breaking down these “sticky” buildups helps everything move much better, resulting in better overall movement and pain relief.
3. Muscle Scraping Improves Range Of Motion
Speaking of better movement, muscle scraping helps to increase the range of motion in your joints.4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5294941/
A combination of breaking down adhesions and improving blood flow in your muscles allows your joints to move more freely, since they have less restrictions on them from surrounding structures.
4. Muscle Scraping Decreases Swelling
Since muscle scraping uses tools to “brush” or “scrape” over your body, it can help to reduce swelling in an injured tissue.5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331993/
Swelling usually occurs in different “pockets” around the body, usually close to where you have an injury or inflammation.
Muscle scraping will help move that swelling around and help your body to flush it out of that pocket.
This works best with minor swelling, but helping your body with this flushing mechanism helps it combat long-term swelling as well.
5. Muscle Scraping Breaks Down Scar Tissue
Similar to breaking down adhesions in the fascia, muscle scraping helps fight the negative effects that scar tissue by creating localized inflammation in the target muscle.
Such inflammation restarts the healing process by removing the scar tissue and releasing adhesions, while also increasing blood and nutrient supply to the injured area and migration of fibroblasts.6https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331993/
After a surgery or an injury that involves a cut, scar tissue can form at that area.
This type of tissue basically replaces your skin, but is much stiffer and less adaptable.
On top of that, scar tissue can create adhesions underneath it, sticking to your muscles, organs, or fascia.
This is essentially a scar inside your body, and can stiffen up the same way that the scar on your skin would.
Muscle scraping works to break down that scar tissue, and helps that area of your body move better, untethered by this new scarring.7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331993/
6. Muscle Scraping Speeds Up Recovery
Most of us don’t like to be stuck waiting for an injury to heal longer than it has to.
Surgeries, tears, fractures, etc. all have certain healing times.
Muscle scraping can help get you back to doing your normal activities faster by speeding this process up.
Even if you’re just an athlete who’s had a tough workout, muscle scraping is excellent for bodybuilding and is becoming quite a popular method of recovery.
The micro-trauma it creates in our soft tissues activates the body’s healing process by creating inflammation.
This triggers our body to focus on the area you’re targeting, and it’ll use its resources to take care of the injury quicker.8https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jsr/9/4/article-p304.xml
7. Muscle Scraping Improves Muscle Recruitment
Stiff, sore, or injured muscles will sometimes “clamp” down on themselves.
The body uses this mechanism to help protect itself when it thinks that moving more will injure it.
Now, this can be good in specific times where a muscle is about to tear, but not so good when there isn’t any real risk for injury.
Scraping through those muscles can help relax them, almost as if you’re teaching them that it’s okay to move.9https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5294941/
This lets those muscles go back to their normal, relaxed state, and allows them to be activated when needed.
8. Muscle Scraping Saves Your Hands!
If you’re a physiotherapist, muscle scraping can be a super effective way to give your hands and fingers a rest…
Most muscle scraping tools are quite heavy and produce a far better stimulus on the patient while using significantly less force than what you’d be using with your hands if you were to do things manually.
Physios often complain about the hands-on nature of a lot of their work, which is why you’ll often see muscle scraping tool reviews from therapists proclaiming, “these saved my hands!”
Muscle Scraping Side Effects
Muscle scraping is considered very safe and has minor side effects that include:
- Pain — Depending what body part you’re getting worked on, things can feel a bit sore or uncomfortable, which is totally normal!
- Bruising — When we break down adhered tissue and create micro-trauma in our soft tissues we may experience some bruising similar to how a deep-tissue massage would.
- Redness — The high amount of blood flow and inflammation that muscle scraping causes may leave your skin looking red.
Check out this article to see a real before and after of muscle scraping.
Since muscle scraping is pretty much for anybody and has minimal side effects, there’s a lot to love about this therapy technique.
Helping your body recover quicker and get blood flowing through it smoother, along with breaking down sticky tissues in your body are some great benefits that make looking at muscle scraping closer worthwhile.