A physical therapist’s primary function is to “promote the patient’s ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability,” according to The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. While some common methods used to achieve this goal include electrotherapy, ultrasound, and the application of heat and/or ice, the Graston Technique is another treatment that can provide benefits in a physical therapy setting.
The Graston Technique Defined
The Graston Technique is a type of instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization. Often referred to simply as IASTM, Physiopedia shares that this method of treatment involves the use of “ergonomically designed instruments” which are created to help healthcare professionals detect and treat a variety of fascial restrictions. This includes those related to soft tissue fibrosis, chronic inflammation, and degeneration.
Research published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation indicates that there are numerous scientifically proven benefits associated with the use of IASTM. Some of these include being able to “significantly improve” both soft tissue function and range of motion in individuals with sports-related injuries. IASTM has also been found to reduce pain and shorten rehabilitation periods.
When it comes to the Graston Technique specifically, Spine-health states that this method of myofascial release works in three distinct ways. First, it breaks down the scar tissue and fascia that is somehow contributing to decreased function and/or creating pain for the patient. Second, it stretches connective tissue “in an attempt to rearrange” the soft tissues around it. Third, the Graston Technique helps to create a more effective healing environment.
Conditions the Graston Technique Helps Treat
The Graston Technique can help resolve many different types of issues for physical therapy patients.
Chronic low back pain
If a patient presents with chronic low back pain, performance of the Graston Technique may help. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, after just four weeks of treatment via this method, subjects exposed to this protocol experienced “significantly” lower levels of pain and improved range of motion than when compared to those assigned to the control groups.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
In a 2007 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome engaged in Graston IASTM twice a week for four weeks, then once a week for two more weeks. Once these treatment sessions were concluded, subjects were reassessed and improvements were found to their nerve conduction latencies, as well as their wrist strength and motion. These improvements were still visible three months post-treatment.
Joint range of motion issues
Studies have also found that IASTM can help improve joint-related range of motion issues. In 2014, the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy published research involving 35 college-level baseball players. Half of them engaged in IASTM and the other half served as a control. Upon conclusion of the study, the group that received IASTM to the posterior shoulder area showed “acute improvements” in glenohumeral horizontal adduction range of motion and internal rotation range of motion.
Chronic ankle instability
A study in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation found that using the Graston Technique in conjunction with dynamic balance training is often helpful for individuals struggling with chronic ankle stability. By combining these two, research participants experienced increases in Foot and Ankle Ability Measure (FAAM), FAAM Sport, range of motion, and the Star Excursion Balance Test. Their pain levels improved as well.
The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) reports that the Graston Technique is one of many effective treatment options for lateral epicondylosis, better known as tennis elbow. Furthermore, the ACA goes on to say that newer techniques like IASTM and Fascial Manipulation “typically produce far better results than the medical community can achieve through anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid injections.”
When Not to Use the Graston Technique
Though many physical therapy patients can benefit from use of the Graston Technique, there are times when this particular therapeutic method is not advised. Spine-health reports that this includes when a patient has high blood pressure, certain types of kidney disorders, or is taking blood thinners.
Spine-health adds that performance of the Graston Technique is also not advised on any area where there is an open wound or unhealed, complicated fracture. Also, if the patient is pregnant, areas related to the spine, pelvis, abdomen, and certain acupuncture points should be avoided during treatment. Finally, if a patient has cancer, it depends on the type and location of the cancer as to whether the Graston Technique should be used at all.
The Graston Technique has many uses and benefits in a physical therapy setting that can help a variety of different issues.