Gua Sha and STARR Tools

I just went to my physical therapist and he turned me on to some tools made out of plastic, which were very much like metal Graston tools but much thinner. I doubted that they could hold up to the abuse of scraping my muscles, but after a treatment session, they seemed to hold up fine. They also exhibit another vibratory quality than thick stainless steel; you can feel and hear the vibrations of the adhesions and bumps within muscles much better (so thick stainless steel better than a spoon, but plastic better than either).
These are the tools of Gua Sha, whose roots are in China now in the US. In China, these tools are often made of jade, or bone, or animal horn. When I first mentioned Graston to my mother years ago, she told me that the Chinese had been doing this kind of treatment for a long time, probably longer than Graston has been around.
Gua Sha stands for “scraping sand” and that’s what you do with the tools, which is to scrape your muscles. The principles are the same as Graston although the explanations are often in Eastern concepts, using qi and energy meridians and flow. My PT person told me that he went to a seminar and the teacher who is a Westerner had also incorporated a lot of other concepts, like the concept of Anatomy Trains where muscles are linked together around the body and often treating the entire muscle chain is much better than treating just the local affected area.
Gua Sha scraping can be light up to super deep, resulting in a bruised appearance lasting many days. My PT person and I talked about this and we both feel that extensive bruising resulting from super deep scraping is bad for people in-season. I’ve often felt the results of deep Graston the next day when my muscles are too traumatized to perform well, even as they are healing.
For a more in-depth discussion on Gua Sha and its usage, pick up this excellent book from the Gua Sha Tools website. It’s packed with lots of detailed information, and crosses from Eastern and Western philosophies.
I did want to mention that I found a Graston tool substitute that was better than my spoon. A few weeks back I searched the internet looking for, perhaps, a set of used Graston tools on ebay or elsewhere. Amazingly, I could not find one instance of a used set anywhere! But after much searching, I found the STARR Tool. The website is a bit ghetto as far as design goes, and with anxiety I pressed the Buy link to purchase the STARR tool. Thankfully, it arrived a few days later!
The stainless steel STARR tool is excellent. The steel transmits the vibrations much better than a metal spoon I was using and it has multiple edges to be used on various parts of the body. Its heft really allows me to get into muscles deeper too. It also comes with a CD that goes over the basics of scraping technique.
While I admire Graston very much, I also like the fact that people are getting alternatives out there, especially for an adventurous soul such as myself who dares treat my own ailments. I can’t get into my PT person’s office all that often, and between visits, I bust out my trusty STARR tool and help my body along in its healing and recovery process.
I did buy a set of Gua Sha plastic and jade tools, so once I get them I’ll do a post on how they feel relative to my STARR tool and Graston as well.

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10 responses

  1. Sara Feldman Avatar
    Sara Feldman

    So happy to hear that I’m not the only one out there who Gua’s themselves to health. I had an injury to the bottom of my foot which became gritty and I was unable to walk for 2 years.
    Thanks for the info!

  2. Terris Bolden Avatar
    Terris Bolden

    Mr. Shen,
    I would like to know your result of Graston vs. Starr tool vs. Gua Sha. In terms of self application with the use of the instructional literature provided which should I purchase? I know Graston is off the table due to price. I cannot believe there are no “replica” Graston instrument for sale (have you found any?).
    I also feel like a sucker for buying an aluminum tool and instructional manual for $150. Gua sha looks appealing to the frugal side in me but I do not want to buy it and see you post that the Starr tool is superior for whatever reason.
    Also, are the much difference in the instructional manuals of either Gua Sha or the Starr tool?
    Or, should I buy a 15/16 wrench and call it a day?
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Bea Avatar

    D. Shen,
    Please let us know which tool is the best in your experience since you have purchase the Starr and the Gua Sha tools. Or do you think that Graston gives far more superior results. I can’t afford the Graston either, but I just wanted to compare.
    Thank you for comparing and sharing with others.

  4. DShen Avatar

    The answer to which is best is…it depends. It depends on the situation: the muscle, the condition, your body’s tolerance to this type of treatment.
    To describe the differences and nuances in a comment would be too numerous! Even as I look back at this post and I said I would talk about the differences, I have found that it would be a whole book on a subject which I have only enough expertise that I am only willing to try on myself.
    As far as tools go, I would say that the weight of the STARR tool, as solid stainless steel, helps you apply force that you would not be able to do with a tool that is lighter in weight, and less dense in material. However, the edge of a tool matters so sometimes you want a sharper edge and sometimes more blunt. It also depends on what kind of muscle you’re treating, and sometimes lighter tools can work better than a heavier tool.
    I tend to favor the STARR tool personally because it has multiple edges and shapes all in one tool but I often pull out my Gua Sha tools if the STARR tool’s shape and weight aren’t appropriate.
    I would definitely go to a Graston practictioner have them work on you. You should observe and ask tons of questions, even read up on it before going. I went for years before even trying it on myself and I learned a lot before doing so.
    Good luck!

  5. Hi, I have been using Gua Sha for many years to treat headaches on my TMJ clients as a dentist. Now that I have a full time ART practice I use Gua Sha frequently. Patients like it and I get great results in addition to ART.
    I would like to find a couple of stainless steel tools to help me when treating large areas but my jade and buffalo horn tools do the trick, just a little small at times.
    I paid 110 for my Gua Sha tools and I was taught how to do Gua Sha by my very own chiropractor who ordered the tools special for me.
    Bottom line is that it works.
    Dr. Vera

  6. Chuck Avatar

    Upon reading the above article, I ordered the Gua Sha tools and practitioners manual from the site listed above for $99. I liked that the site owner gives a 60 day money back guarantee. I was somewhat hesitant as the tools look a bit flimsy and unimpressive compared to the Graston but then they are prohibitively expensive to say the least. I’ll let you folks know how it goes. Any other feedback/experiences?

  7. DShen Avatar

    The plastic tools are good for some things but harder, heavier tools are better for others. Do not be put off by their flimsiness; I think you’ll find that they will be good for some treatments like ailments which are close to the surface, or for affecting fascia, but not good for getting at deep knots in large muscles.
    If you want a cheaper alternative to true Graston tools, check out some of the Miyodac sets on ebay which are metal and pretty good. I bought a Miyodac set off ebay and think they are great! Also search on Gua Sha tools on ebay and you’ll find stone tools which are very good and not that expensive. I also have a set of stone tools and switch between plastic, metal and stone depending on what I am treating. Good luck!

  8. Dr. James Rubin, D.C. Avatar
    Dr. James Rubin, D.C.

    I own a set of Graston Tools and have used it for a few years but the tools are not completely smooth and I could never be able to clean them. There are very small pits and grooves on the edges that could harbor bacteria, viruses, and skin cells from other patients. I have stopped using the Graston Tools due to risk of cross contamination.
    I tried the cheaper Gua Sha tools on eBay but they do not have the weight behind them to be effective. Also, the edges on them were inconsistent and did not evenly distribute pressure over the tissue. Even though they are smooth, Gua Sha tools are not stainless steel so they will not be FDA approved to be used in a clinical setting anyways.
    I would not even recommend them for personal use, especially the organic ones made of animal horn. Organic material will harbor bacteria and viruses and these things can easily be transferred from one patient to another.
    Dr. James Rubin, D.C.

  9. Cheryl Avatar

    One question to you, Dr. Shen: You mentioned the stainless steel. STARR also sells a anodized aluminum tool for scraping. I am thinking of purchasing it due to finances. It looks guaranteed if it breaks. I feel it would work. I was glad to see someone review it that uses different modalities. I might collect Starr the aluminum, Gua Sha, and perhaps one other that you mentioned. I have become quite good at scraping. I call it the kitchton technique. I agree about the website on STARR, but you seem to have success with the tool.
    Two questions: Anyway, have you seen the aluminum STARR tool–4 oz. lighter than the stainless steel? And is it too small or too big. I have small hands, but I think the hold in the center would accommodate both. Thanks.

  10. DShen Avatar

    First, I’m not Dr. Shen, just Mr. Shen!
    Second, I have not seen the aluminum STARR tool. I believe it is the same size, just a different material.
    Third, the hole in the middle is a great feature. It allows you to stick your finger in there and it provides a really great grip when your hands are slippery due to having lotion on them.
    Good luck!