Muscle scraping has quickly become one of the biggest trending recovery methods in the health and fitness world.
It’s hard not see the crazy images of people bruised up and red after a muscle scraping session on social media, with even more people saying how much it’s helped them despite the off-putting pictures.
You also hear some people saying it was super painful and others saying muscle scraping doesn’t hurt…so what should you think about it all?
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about muscle scraping, including what it is, how it can help you, what to expect, the different types, how you can do it yourself, and much more.
Let’s jump in!
What Is Muscle Scraping?
Muscle scraping is an umbrella term that includes a couple different types of practices.
Basically, we use a scraping tool made out of stainless steel, smooth stone, or a hard plastic to scrape overtop of our muscles, scars, and skin to stimulate some sort of a response.
We’ll talk more about those responses down below, but we first need to understand some of those different types of practices.
Understanding Key Terms
There are 4 main key terms we want to know when we talk about the umbrella term of muscle scraping.
They are the main practices when anyone talks about muscle scraping, and although they are quite similar to each other, there’s some slight differences to each of them.
Let’s check out the first key term.
What Is IASTM?
When someone talks about IASTM, they often mean it as another umbrella term for the other 3 types of muscle scraping we’ll talk about.
IASTM stands for “Instrument Assisted Soft-Tissue Mobilization,” and uses a wide variety of tools made from hard plastic, stainless steel, or smooth stone.
The tools also come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, with some better for different parts of the body (we’ll talk more about that later).
The idea of IASTM is that it breaks down any tissue that is dysfunctional, which could mean:
- Scar Tissue — This is tissue that builds up after a surgery or an accident, and can stick to the muscles and tissues underneath it. This “stickiness” can cause pain and decreased movement.
- Tight Muscles — Almost all people have struggled with tight muscles, whether that’s because they have an office job and don’t move a lot throughout the day or because they train at the gym and have irritated the muscles a bit.
- Injured Or Painful Tissue — This can be anything like strained muscles, tight fascia, or overworked body parts.
Working through these tissues often provides relief for them, and IASTM takes advantage of this concept by using a focused tool to hit the body part that’s giving you issues.
What Is Astym?
Astym (pronounced “A-stim”) is very similar to IASTM, except it solely uses a set of plastic tools.
It’s marketed as a more comfortable technique than the others here, but uses a very similar style of scraping.
The idea behind Astym is that our muscles can become dysfunctional due to things like injuries, overuse, underuse, etc., which creates mixed-up muscle fibres.
Using Astym to scrape over top of these muscles helps straighten those fibres out, back to how they were, resulting in more range of motion and pain-free use.
What Is The Graston Technique?
The Graston Technique is one of the more popular types of muscle scraping.
It was invented by a guy who hurt his knee while water skiing, and decided to build a set of tools to work on his knees.
He used a set of stainless steel tools, and actually got really good results in his recovery process from it.
From there, the Graston Technique was born, along with a trademarked set of tools that all Graston Technique providers use (although I find they are grossly overpriced…).
The main take-away from the Graston Technique is the specific tools they use, which is where it really differs from Astym.
What Is Gua Sha?
Gua Sha is kind-of like the father of all other muscle scraping techniques.
It originated in ancient China around 2000 years ago, and is still being used today!
Although the concept is very similar to other muscle scraping techniques, Gua Sha believes that by scraping a body part, it will bring the “bad” problems to the surface, allowing it to evaporate and heal — hence the redness we get.
All these types of muscle scraping are quite similar, as you can probably tell, with some differences in how they are performed and what kind of tools they use.
Now that you know the differences of IASTM vs. Astym vs. Graston Technique vs. Gua Sha, we can jump into what muscle scraping actually does for you.
What Does Muscle Scraping Do?
So, how exactly does muscle scraping work?
Basically, this scraping over different body parts helps us do a couple of different things.
First, muscle scraping causes inflammation in our body at the scrape site, which triggers our body to restart the healing process.
This “recovery mode” helps us fix injuries or issues that we’ve been dealing with, no matter if those injuries are long-standing or happened recently.
This is because inflammation is part of our body’s recovery process, and sometimes it isn’t able to fully complete that process due to:
- Overuse — Constantly overusing an injured body part doesn’t give it a chance to heal properly, putting it in a constant aggravated state.
- Underuse — Most of the time, going on complete bed-rest or avoiding movement in an injured/irritated body part is going to stiffen things up and not allow our body to heal the way it needs to.
- Compensation — Our bodies are smart, they’ll often figure out a way to compensate for an injured or painful site, which tricks the body into thinking that the injured site is healed and doesn’t have to go through the full process anymore.
As you can see, this process can be interrupted in many different ways, and muscle scraping can help properly restart it.
Second, muscle scraping also works to increase blood flow in our target tissues, which helps feed nutrients and oxygen to our muscles, skin, and fascia.
Because of this, the increased blood flow improves healing, helps relieve pain, and aids in recovery, especially since an injured or painful site often has decreased blood flow due to us not being able to move it as freely.
Does Muscle Scraping Hurt?
So, you might be wondering if muscle scraping is painful.
If you went on social media, you would find tons of videos of people writhing in pain while going through a muscle scraping session.
It looks painful, unsafe, and like it wouldn’t be worth any benefits it provides.
The truth is that muscle scraping is very safe, despite what social media makes it look like.
Also, it shouldn’t hurt as bad as people make it out to be — a lot of these videos are over-exaggerated or played up because of the virality it can create, when in fact muscle scraping shouldn’t cause you pain.
That being said, it can be uncomfortable, but it should be very manageable without feeling like you’re going to pass out.
Muscle Scraping Bruises
Now, even though it shouldn’t be painful, why does it look like it is with the crazy bruises you can get from muscle scraping?
As we just talked about, muscle scraping starts an inflammatory response in the body and creates a big rush of blood to the scrape site.
This both combines into having our skin react, often looking like some painful bruising — when in reality, it’s just a sign of the body reacting the way we want.
That being said, some people will bruise a lot less or a lot more compared to someone else — everyone reacts differently!
Here’s an example of someone who went through a session on their armpit/lat:
As you can see, it looks like the muscle scraping caused some redness, which is the blood rushing to the surface of the skin.
Here’s an example of someone who’s bruised up a bit more:
This person is likely a strong reactor — almost everyone knows someone who bruises by seemingly just touching something the wrong way, which makes muscle scraping look a lot more dramatic.
The good news is, this isn’t something you need to worry about at all.
It’s completely expected and normal, and the redness/bruising should fade within a couple days after the session.
Muscle Scraping Results
So, why exactly do people do muscle scraping?
As I’ve mentioned, there are a bunch of awesome benefits to muscle scraping, and many reasons as to why someone should explore this recovery method.
People tend to find a couple of different positive impacts that muscle scraping gives, including:
- Increased Range Of Motion — Muscle scraping helps the target muscle relax and improves its blood flow, which often lets it get out of a restricted state, meaning it’ll move more freely.
- Decreased Pain — With the increased blood flow and improved range, the pain you’ve been feeling can be lowered by quite a bit, especially when staying consistent with your sessions.
- Improved Recovery — Your muscles need nutrients, and increasing the blood flow to them will allow your body to feed those nutrients much more efficiently, helping you recover from soreness and tightness.
- Better Performance — Muscle scraping will indirectly help your performance because you’ve improved your recovery, decreased your muscle soreness, and helped your body move with better range of motion — all things that help in the gym/sport!
- Breaks Down Adhesions/Scar Tissue — If you have a thick scar, there’s a risk that the scar will start “sticking” to the fascia underneath it, and muscle scraping can help to break down those sticky sites.
It’s easy to see why people do muscle scraping, and even more so when you have a good idea of what to expect before and after a session.
Usually, your muscle scraping provider will give you some info on what’s going to happen, including what types of tools they’ll use, what kind of benefits you should see, and what to expect during and after the session.
People generally feel a difference pretty quickly after muscle scraping — often within a couple of days.
Some soreness is expected, along with the redness and bruising that we talked about before — but these are all normal things and shouldn’t create issues for you.
Does Muscle Scraping Actually Work?
Now, after reading all this you’re probably pretty excited about the potential that muscle scraping has.
The great thing is, muscle scraping really does work — there’s both anecdotal and researched evidence to support it!
In fact, many health providers are jumping on muscle scraping due to the benefits it can give.
Let’s jump into some actual evidence.
What Does The Science Say?
It’s easy to be skeptical about any health and fitness trend— there’s always a new one being advertised, often with no evidence to support them.
Looking at muscle scraping, we can see that it’s a well researched subject, with more research constantly being done.
A study from 2017 looked at what effects muscle scraping had on scar tissue, and they had some interesting things to say:
“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” 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331993/
This is a good look at all the different benefits muscle scraping provides, including the effects on the healing process, scar tissue, and blood flow.
Another study looked at the effects of muscle scraping on a bodybuilder who was struggling with painful and limited shoulder range of motion.
They found that after three scraping sessions, the bodybuilder’s pain-free shoulder range increased significantly, with an increase in function too.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5294941/
A study from 1999 looked at the effects of blood flow in a muscle and its relationship to pain.
Since muscle scraping improves blood flow, this would have a direct influence in how our muscles feel pain-wise according to this study, which is backed up by another study claiming the same thing after treatments using the Gua Sha method.4https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17905355/
A systemic review looked at many different research articles on muscle scraping and found something very exciting:
“IASTM may have an impact on physiological changes by providing an increase in blood flow, reduction in tissue viscosity, myofascial release, interruption of pain receptors, and improvement of flexibility of underlying tissue.”5https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10833196.2017.1304184?journalCode=yptr20
Another study that looked at two groups experiencing chronic low back pain, gave one group treatment with the Graston Technique and not the other.
After the study was over, they compared the two groups, and found that the Graston Technique group had significantly lower pain levels than the other group.6https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4932073/
This further suggests that muscle scraping can help people even with long-standing issues and injuries.
We could get into a ton more research papers, but I think you get the point — there is real evidence backing this stuff up!
Muscle Scraping vs. Foam Rolling
This is a common debate, as both muscle scraping and foam rolling have taken the recovery world by storm.
While you’ll find a foam roller in nearly every gym, the science on it is a bit muddy.
The main issue is that foam rolling, although potentially beneficial, may have more short-lived benefits than muscle scraping would.
We can be more intentional with muscle scraping, using tools that hit certain body parts better than a foam roller could.
Based on how we use both tools, I like to think of the foam roller acting as more of a bandaid for an injury, whereas muscle scraping has more potential to actually help in the healing of the injury.
This, of course, can be controversial, but the truth is that muscle scraping has been around for much longer than foam rolling, with proper research and evidence backing it up.
How To Use Muscle Scraping Effectively
There are many ways you can use muscle scraping effectively and get the most benefits out of it.
The nice thing is that you can get your own tools to do muscle scraping at home — I personally use the Sidekick Swerve tool, as it has a low price, is high quality, and is super versatile!
A couple of tips you want to use when muscle scraping are:
- Use Lubrication — You don’t need a ton of lotion all over yourself, but use just enough that your tool glides over your skin smoothly and painlessly.
- Technique — Spend about 10-30 seconds scraping in the same direction at a target muscle before moving on (you can always come back to that spot later).
- Pressure — You want to use a moderate pressure, not pushing super light but also not pushing to the point of pain (a little discomfort is ok).
- Recovery — Give your target site about 48 hours of rest between scraping sessions, otherwise it’ll have a tough time recovering from the inflammation we caused.
You can also use muscle scraping pre-workout, as this will help your muscles loosen up, increase your range of motion, and the muscles to warm up and get some blood flowing through them — which could help avoid injury!
In fact, a lot of athletes and bodybuilders will scrape before or after a workout to get ahead of their recovery and improve their performance.
So, remember to listen to your body and not push it to crazy pain levels — keep a moderate pressure on the tool, scrape in one direction at a time, and move on after 10-30 seconds.
How To Use A Muscle Scraping Tool
First things first, you want to use a tool that fits the job.
We’ll discuss more later about muscle scraping tools, but I love to use the Sidekick Swerve tool, as I’ve mentioned.
The reason you want to use a proper tool is because it’ll let you get into your target area more effectively.
For example, using a bigger tool curved a certain way will allow you to hit your bigger thigh muscles, whereas using a smaller tool curved another way will let you work your forearms better.
Also, make sure to check the tool for any cracks or chips, as this could be uncomfortable when scraping across your skin.
Always keep a firm grip on it while you’re moving it in one direction at a time, playing around with the angle of it to properly dig into your muscle — kind of like a deep tissue massage!
How Often Can You Do Muscle Scraping?
As great as muscle scraping is, you’ll want to give yourself a break to allow your body to recover.
It’s generally suggested that you should wait about 48 hours between sessions, or at least until the redness is gone.
This will keep you from going overboard and causing constant inflammation in the target site — the body needs to do its job and heal, after all!
Muscle Scraping As A Therapist
As a Physical Therapist and Personal Trainer myself, I’ve found great use in this recovery technique.
It’s great because it doesn’t stress your hands nearly as much as if you were to massage someone without a tool, and you can be a lot more targeted.
This means that you can get the same benefits as a massage in way less time, while saving your hands.
I’d suggest using this with people after having a conversation with them about what the goals of muscle scraping are, making sure they know about the side effects of redness/bruising and some soreness.
It’s great to help your patients or athletes recover and get back to doing their activity pain-free quicker, in addition to some exercises or modifications to their training program.
It’s also great because you can bring the tool anywhere!
Muscle Scraping Certification
Although you don’t need to have a certification to do muscle scraping on yourself, it’s generally recommended for health practitioners to get some sort of a course done.
The most popular course is The Graston Technique…except it’s crazy expensive, with their tools being some of the most expensive options around!
RockTape has a good course as well, which is more affordable and uses many different types of brands for muscle scraping.
So, it’s hard to say what the best IASTM courses are — it really depends on your budget and whether you think that a course will serve you well.
I personally would recommend finding some sort of an IASTM course because they provide a lot of in-depth info on how to properly do things, which will allow you to get the most out of muscle scraping.
Muscle Scraping Tools
There are a ton of tools on the market, all with different qualities that make them better or worse options — and I’m always on the hunt for the best muscle scraping tools.
As I’ve mentioned, the Sidekick Swerve is one of my favourites.
It’s made from stainless steel, and is the perfect size for working on my forearms, chest, neck, and shoulders — and it’s even great for hard-to-reach areas in your lower body, like when scraping for plantar fasciitis.
This tool is also much more affordable than some of the others, which makes it a lot easier on the wallet!
If you want a tool that can hit the lower body a bit more as well, the Sidekick Echo tool is a very solid option.
It’s a bit heavier and longer than the Swerve tool, and has a great anti-fatigue grip that you’ll want when hitting your larger lower body muscles.
Now, if you want a larger tool that’ll be a beast for your leg day recovery, check out the Sidekick Bow tool.
The grip on this thing is awesome, and helps me recover from a hard workout without making me feel like I need to work overtime with the muscle scraping due to it’s long design and anti-fatigue grips.
The last one I want to talk about is the Sidekick Curve tool.
It’s probably my biggest recommendation for a budget option, as it’s made from stone rather than stainless steel, making it a bit more fragile.
However, it’s backed by a great warranty, and is my go-to for most areas of the body!
When you’re looking for a tool, keep these things in mind:
- Design — The shape and size can make a difference as to how easy you can target certain muscles.
- Edges — I love duel-bevelled edges because I can use the tool in any direction, whereas single-bevelled edges are limited to just one direction.
- Grip — Anti-fatigue grips are awesome if you want to do a lot of muscle scraping in a shorter period of time, otherwise you can get away with a regular grip.
- Materials — Stronger materials like stainless steel will last longer than stone or plastic, and are usually more hygienic as well!
Muscle scraping is a beast of a muscle recovery method and much more than just a trend.
It’s backed by research, and tons of people have tried it and benefited from it, using it to help recover from injuries, help their muscles relax, decrease pain, improve range of motion, get rid of scar tissue, and more!
You can do it on your own, which makes it super versatile, and having a lot of different options for tools makes it accessible for all budgets and areas of use.
Make sure to always listen to your body when it tells you that you’re pushing too hard or too often, and start enjoying the benefits of muscle scraping today!