Graston in the Privacy of My Own Home

The other week I went to my physical therapist and in a sudden moment of inspiration wondered why I couldn’t do Graston at home. I asked him if other patients had pondered this, and also remembered when my other physical therapist once told me that she had done Graston at a race with a butter knife. It seemed possible, and that between visits to their offices, Graston would be an effective way to manage tightness and getting the muscles to calm down in case they get really over-tight during workouts. So after my treatment, I took a picture of a typical set of Graston tools:

This trusty set cost over $4000! And is only available to licensed practictioners of Graston. Well, I wasn’t going to get a set that way for sure. Undaunted, I headed down to Westfield Valley Fair Mall and checked out Williams-Sonoma. There were plenty of kitchen gadgets there for sure, but nothing seemed sturdy enough to mimic Graston tools. I then went over to Pottery Barn and found what I was looking for in their dinnerware section. The utensils of various sizes and shapes were perfect! And even more perfect was the fact that there was a holder full of single utensils; I didn’t have to pay big bucks to buy a 4 place setting set! I could buy singles. So I selected a bunch to try:

Graston’s set: $4000+, my set: $22!
The hard part is seeing if you can get the same effect with the shape of the utensil, as you can with a Graston tool. Through experimentation, Graston tools were organically derived for many purposes by a physical therapist who was also a metalworker. So I started applying these tools to my body to see which ones would work best.
My favorite is the one at the bottom of the picture. It is the spoon which has a square-ish shaped handle. I also bought a butter knife with the same handle and the back of the blade is actually pretty good, but just a bit dangerous when you’re using force against your muscles; butter knives are much duller than steak knives, but you can still cut yourself! Still, I may try to file down the blade so it is less sharp. For now, the spoon works great. (By the way, spoons are allowed on carry-on luggage unlike butter knives so I can bring this around with me when I travel.)
It is the edge that is the secret. If it’s too rounded, you can’t dig into your muscles enough. And if it’s not sharp enough (with a broken/not-razor edge), you can’t feel the vibrations of the tool which signal you passing over adhesions in the muscle. If you examine Graston tools, you’ll find that their edge is actually a (small) rounded edge with a bladed area of about 45 degrees. It allows you to make these “slicing” motions into the muscle, as if you were trying ot shave off a chunk of flesh.
One downside of the spoon; it is too small to get a good grip on to really start digging into your muscles. Graston tools are much more beefier and you can get your whole hand around it to really apply some force to your muscles. When the tool is not so beefy, it is hard to really get force. Maybe that’s ok; I am still gunshy about really putting lots of scraping force into my muscles for fear of screwing myself up! But hey, what’s life without some adventure?
What I’ve learned about applying Graston to yourself in the privacy of your own home:
1. Get Graston done on you first. Don’t attempt this without watching someone who knows what they’re doing and feeling it done to yourself. It’s the best way to learn about how it should feel from the patient side. Plus, you can watch and remember the motions and strokes, and how to apply the tool to yourself. You need to learn the various methods of moving or not moving your muscles during application, what to be careful of and what is ok. You can also get a sense for how much force should be applied, and also most importantly, learn what adhesions in your muscles feel like.
2. Develop a sensitivity for feeling adhesions and knots in your muscles with your fingers first. Take some lotion (I use Aveeno) and rub it on the muscle. Then run your fingers across the muscle. If it feels relatively smooth, it has little or no adhesions or knots. But if it does, it can feel like a surface of small potato chip crumbs as it makes this crinkly kind of feeling when you move across it. It can also feel like a bunch of nodules, or it can be one big harder area.
Then develop the sensitivity with the tool itself, as it scrapes across muscles. It will feel as if you’re running the edge across a surface of small gravel sometimes, or just a rough surface. Try also running it across other muscles, like your forearm which, for me, is pretty smooth. Then you’ll know what non-adhesion filled muscles feel like. Another way to find adhesions and knots is to use a foam roller. This is especially good for larger muscle groups. When you roll onto a big knot, it will feel like a big hard lump and will be painful when you hit that area with the roller.
3. When apply my spoon, I generally keep to the larger muscle areas and shy away from joints. I don’t like the thought of accidentally affecting the tendons or hitting a nerve bundle or bone. That would not be a good thing.
4. I usually start off lightly and slow in the stroke. I can gauge how my muscle feels with the spoon being applied and make sure there aren’t bruises or some kind of acute pain there as I move the spoon across the area. I don’t like to overtreat areas as that may cause greater damage. I also keep away from areas that are bruised, either by me, or from a professional ART or Graston session. You gotta let bruised areas heal; it’s not good to keep bruising them up. Bruises tend to restrict motion.
If, after the lighter and slower strokes, I do not feel too much extra pain, I apply more pressure to get deeper into the tissue. Sometimes I increase the speed of the stroke and sometimes I keep it slower. There is definitely an upper limit to speed and I think that extra speed does not work well. It seems to be more the pressure and amount of strokes than stroke speed.
After a few strokes, I feel the area with my fingers. I almost always feel a smoothing out of the area as the adhesions get broken down. I then do another set of strokes, feel the area again, and maybe I’ll do it once more. I don’t have a set amount of stroke-and-inspect sets to do; it’s kind of something I just know that I should stop or go one more. Definitely doing too much is a bad thing.
5. After scraping the muscles, I often will get some more lotion and apply some long, massage strokes to clear out some any fluids that may have accumulated and to help blood flow into the area.
6. I also vary my muscle condition, scraping it in stretched and contracted positions. I also sometimes flex the muscle to really tighten it as I scrape; very tough since it hurts a lot! But varying muscle condition sometimes exposes adhesions which are not apparent while in a rested condition.
7. I find that results are often immediate. Certainly, after a few hours, many aches and pains and tightness magically go away. Wow! All from a spoon and some lotion!
8. You’ll find that you’ll never be able to use as much force as another person scraping your muscles. You really don’t need that much anyways.
9. I also know that there are areas I can’t self treat because I can’t reach them, or I can reach them but I can’t apply enough force on the spoon to make a difference. These are areas like my lower back and my hamstrings. Bummer!
By the way, I can’t recommend this to anyone. If you do something wrong, you could really hurt yourself. Treat this article as a curiosity and for knowledge purposes only. Go find a great Graston practictioner and get treated the right way.

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3 responses

  1. Bryan Avatar

    Practitioners who learn these techniques in school do them to each other using utensils and reflex hammer handles until they can afford to buy the real deal. You can buy plastic tools online or jade instruments that are used in gua sha.
    I would like to emphasize one thing. The last comment. Trying this on yourself is a bad idea even if you have had GT a few times. One of the biggest components of the technique is stretching the area and then strengthening specific muscles. The most effective stretches/exercises are not always given on the first several visits as many cannot tolerate them.
    On another note, someone who has done it to themselves in the past may feel they can do it to others or for new problems and not seek proper care. The best bet is to see a GT provider and get treated from someone who has the time and training to know when and when not to do this technique.

  2. Terry Avatar

    I use a 15/16″ Sears Craftsman Wrench with a smooth chrome finish. I prefer it over silverware which I have also used. The length is similar to the longest Graston instrument so you can apply more pressure and hit larger areas for spots like the IT band and quads.

  3. TerryDarc Avatar

    Interesting and daffy, IMO. Graston is to break down fibrosities that build up, perhaps over a period of time and not from simple muscle tightness. This is probably what’s keeping you from destroying your muscles/fascia.
    I’ve had Graston on two occasions for separate problems – worked beautifully both times – and I have to confess, I had thoughts of DIY Graston using kitchen implements.
    But Graston is a profound treatment, not for Mickey-mousing around with one’s own body. For long-term damage that hasn’t gotten better and isn’t going to get better. I’d give DIY Graston a pass.