Last summer I strained my intercostal muscles. I wrote about the injury and was astounded by the number of people who responded, sharing their intercostal muscle strain stories and lamenting the long, slow road to recovery. (Click through the headline below to read their comments)
I’ve since updated this post, sharing the exercises that my chiropractor taught me to help re-strengthen my intercostal muscles and overall core strength (you can find a video demonstration of the exercises on my YouTube channel).
But a recent question from a reader (as well as an overzealous core workout that tweaked those muscles yet again…) made me realize that I’d never expanded on the details of the in-office treatment I received. Treatment that I believe helped speed up my recovery time.
The Graston Technique (GT) is a trademarked form of soft tissue manipulation that uses specifically designed stainless steel tools to break up scar tissue and adhesions.
It’s performed by rapidly running the instrument back and forth across the affected area, creating heat and friction and some moderate to severe discomfort. (My treatment left my skin bruised and a bit tender; nothing compared to the pain of the original injury, though).
How exactly does the Graston Technique work?
Patented stainless steel instruments are used to “comb over” and “catch” on adhesions and scar tissue. Once the area of restriction has been identified, the instruments are used to break up the scar tissue so it can be absorbed by the body.
According to the official website of the Graston Technique (www.grastontechnique.com), GT
- separates and breaks down collagen cross-links
- separates connective tissue and muscle fibres
- increases skin temperate
- facilitates reflex changes in the the chronic muscle holding pattern (i.e., helps release chronic muscle spasms)
- increases blood flow to and from the affected area
- increases cellular activity in the region (thereby improving cellular regeneration and healing)
Who can perform the Graston Technique?
GT can only be performed by trained and accredited therapists including (but not limited to), registered massage therapists, physiotherapists and chiropractors.
Any evidence that GT really works?
I could find no clinical trials comparing the efficacy of GT to standard, hands-on soft tissue manipulation. Only case studies of individuals or small groups reporting the beneficial effects of a variety of treatments, including GT, active release therapy (ART), ultrasound and electrical stimulation (sometimes all rolled into a single treatment).
Some critics of the technique cite the placebo effect as a likely explanation for the many anecdotal reports of GT’s success in treating everything from plantar fasciatis to carpal tunnel syndrome.
For me, GT seems to have been the treatment that set me on the road to recovery. I didn’t start to notice any improvement in my range of mobility or any decrease in my ambient pain until my chiropractor started adding GT to my twice-weekly treatment sessions. One could argue that time was the true healer and that any benefit I attribute to GT was simply due to the placebo effect.
(In my opinion, the placebo effect doesn’t deserve the bad rap that it usually gets. If you had cancer and were assigned to a clinical trial for a new treatment, would you care whether or not you’d received the ‘sugar pill’ or the real medicine as long as you were cured? The placebo effect is just further proof that we know very little about how the mind affects the health of the body…)
Regardless, if you’re suffering from an intercostal muscle strain and already receiving treatment from a GT certified practitioner, what’s the harm in asking them to include it in your therapy?
Placebo or not, if GT leads to improved healing and pain reduction, what have you got to lose? (If you’re interested in reading a really interesting article on the evolution and maintenance of the placebo effect, click through to Nicholas Humphrey and John Skoyles’ recent editorial in Current Biology. Fascinating)
Has your health care practitioner ever performed the Graston Technique on you?
What was the outcome? Did it help or hinder the healing process?