Benefits of Muscle Scraping and the Sidekick Echo for Athletes

Sidekick Echo - Muscle Scraping Benefits for Athletes
Image Courtesy of Sidekick

Muscle scraping is a therapeutic technique with a rich history spanning thousands of years of ancient and modern culture.

However, it has only been until the past few decades that muscle scraping’s benefits and application have gained mainstream attention from athletes, coaches, and researchers for its unique implications on improving athletic performance and recovery between training sessions.

This article covers everything you need to know about what muscle scraping is, how it works, its benefits for athletes, and the best tools and scrapers that you can add to your own gym bag.  

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What is Muscle Scraping?

Muscle scraping is a form of Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM), which uses specifically designed instruments to mobilize myofascial adhesions and trigger the release of your body’s natural healing responses.

Muscle scraping is a broad categorical term covering various techniques, tools, names, and desired results. From Gua Sha to Graston to ASTYM and STM, each protocol has its own variations with different sub-techniques and treatment purposes. In many cases, the differences are minor and have a large amount of overlapping benefits with one another.

But in many ways, IASTM and muscle scraping is the modern adaptation of the ancient Gua Sha technique from traditional Eastern medicine. Only for athletes, rather than improvements in general wellness or treatment of illness, the tools and protocols have been adapted to isolate the benefits most applicable to athletic performance, recovery, and mobility.

To help clarify the nuance and subtle differences of the ancient medical practice and modern protocols of muscle scraping for athletes, let’s outline the history of two prominent muscle scraping techniques, Gua Sha and the Graston Technique.

History of Gua Sha

While muscle scraping might seem like a relatively new recovery protocol in the world of athletics, its origins in the Eastern tradition of Gua Sha span back centuries – with the earliest records of its practice dating back to the Ming Dynasty of China, there is even evidence of its practice reaching all the way back into the Paleolithic Period.

Ancient Eastern medicine places a significant focus on facilitating energy flow in the body. Having a good flow of energy means improved health and recovery from illness. In contrast, stagnant blood flow and energy being the cause of common ailments and poor health.

In the Eastern tradition, Gua Sha’s purpose is to facilitate the free flow of stagnant energy. This is often why the Gua Sha technique focuses primarily on treatment performed along the body’s meridians. Which according to traditional Chinese medicine, the meridians are the channels where energy flows in the body.

While there is differing terminology and beliefs between traditional Chinese medicine and modern Western medical science, the idea of improving circulation (locally and systemically) combined with tool and technique adaptations for maximizing the release of myofascial adhesions, the merits of the ancient technique quickly became an area of interest ripe with benefits for athletes. Which is exactly what happened with the development of the Graston Technique.

The Graston Technique

The Graston Technique was founded in 1994 when an amateur athlete suffered a knee injury while water skiing. After surgery, he became frustrated with his slow progress from standard rehabilitation methods.

He took his professional background in machining and created several instruments to begin experimenting with variations of the Eastern scraping practice on himself.

After success with his own rehabilitation, he partnered with Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital to refine the technique and instruments to standardize the Graston Technique as a therapy and recovery practice.

This created one of the first waves of interest in using elements of the Eastern practice for modern rehabilitation and athletic use cases. 

Since the Graston Technique itself is a patented process, adaptations within the same principles of muscle scraping and Gua Sha produced a web of technique variations used in Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization.

How does Muscle Scraping Work?

There are fibrous layers of tissue called fascia between your muscles, skin, and bone. Fascia’s role is to stabilize, enclose, and separate the muscles and organs of your body. 

Because the fascia’s role is to hold tissues like muscles and ligaments in place, it needs to be flexible enough to allow for proper range of motion. Exercise-induced muscle damage from various forms of training can signal your body to lay down more collagen in your fascia. Over time fascia thickness can increase, leading to restricted mobility and diminished muscle function.

Muscle scraping is a form of Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM). It works by causing friction and microtraumas in the soft tissue, triggering your body to initiate its healing processes, predominantly localized to the treatment area but also producing beneficial systemic effects throughout the entire body.

For muscle scraping specifically, it’s shown that your body increases circulation and upregulates heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), which is an enzyme that plays a critical role in recovery after exercise and training.

Combining muscle scraping’s ability to mobilize fascial tissue with the physiological healing responses it produces creates a primed environment for recovery, reduction of inflammation, pain relief, and improved range of motion. 

Benefits of Muscle Scraping for Athletes

But how do the effects of muscle scraping actually translate into benefits for athletes? And what research has been done to examine the results the effects?

To answer these questions, we’ll dive into the details of a few studies conducted on muscle scraping for its most prominent effects on athletic performance and recovery.

Mobility and Range of Motion

The Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies conducted a randomized controlled trial on soccer players to determine the effects of IASTM muscle scraping for knee and hip range of motion. The study also aimed to directly compare the results with an already established modality for self-myofascial release, foam rolling.

The study took twenty male soccer players and randomly put them into either a muscle scraping or foam rolling group. After a two-minute muscle scraping or foam rolling session, the participants tested their passive knee flexion and straight leg raises to measure their range of motion.

Both groups saw a significant improvement in range of motion when tested immediately after their respective interventions, with the muscle scraping group having higher gains in range of motion (10-19% compared to 5-9%.)

However, only the muscle scraping group preserved most of their range of motion gains when tested 24 hours post-treatment – retaining 7-13% of their improved range of motion.

Weightlifting Performance

In 2019 the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine conducted a randomized trial on the effects of Gua Sha therapy on weightlifting training.

The study took 44 male weightlifters and randomly assigned them into three groups: a Gua Sha treatment group, a sham scraping group, or a control group.

The Gua Sha and sham scraping groups received 16 treatment sessions over eight weeks of regular resistance training.

The study measured their weightlifting ability, rating of perceived exertion (for snatch and clean and jerk at 85% 1-rep max), creatinine kinase levels, blood urea nitrogen levels, and immunoglobulin A levels.

The results observed that Gua Sha therapy facilitates weightlifting ability, reduces perceived effort, lowers creatinine kinase and blood urea nitrogen, and elevates immunoglobulin A levels. 

Improved Blood Flow

In 2014 the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine conducted a study to compare blood flow changes with Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (Graston).

The study showed muscle scrapings’ ability to elevate immediate and sustained skin temperature on the treatment area (the indication of improved blood circulation.)

While improved blood flow might seem like a minor effect from a treatment protocol, the relationship between blood flow and performance recovery is quite pronounced.

Blood circulation is what’s responsible for transporting nutrients to the tissues that need it the most and helps to manage metabolic waste production and removal post-exercise. 

When you examine any recovery method for athletic performance, from foam rolling to massage guns to saunas, they all share the effect of improving blood flow to accelerate your body’s natural recovery mechanisms. 

Choosing the Right Tools

Choosing the right tool is crucial for both the effectiveness and safety of muscle scraping. The wrong tool for the job could mean ineffective treatment, or worse, result in skin and tissue injury.

The most important part of any muscle scraper is the treatment edge and quality of the tool’s construction – without it, you’re just rubbing something over the surface of your skin. 

The Sidekick Echo Muscle Scraper

The Sidekick echo features a refined, dual-beveled treatment edge that’s purpose-built for muscle scraping. It’s sharp enough to work through your soft tissue but not too sharp to leave lasting damage. 

The Echo is constructed from high-quality 316 Stainless Steel, which is non-porous, corrosion-resistant, easy to clean, extremely durable, and backed by a lifetime warranty. 

Sidekick’s patented design comes with a textured grip to reduce hand fatigue, maximize control, and has an optimal shape for scraping the shoulders, neck, and arms. 

The Echo’s innovative shape and design are what makes it the most comfortable and effective muscle scrapers you can get your hands on.

The Unique Features and Benefits of the Sidekick Echo

  • Eases muscle pain, tension, and immobility
  • Refined dual-bevel treatment edge
  • Curved design cradles both large and small muscles
  • Comfortable grip design eliminates potential hand fatigue
  • Made with 316 stainless steel for ultimate durability
  • Includes lubricating Revive spray
  • Guided recovery videos in our Sidekick App

Muscle Scraping at Home – How to Get Started

Before starting any new exercise or recovery protocol, your first step is always to talk with your doctor or preferred healthcare provider.

Muscle scraping is a skill as much as it is a tool. And another unique feature of Sidekick’s product line placing them head and shoulders above the competition is their accompanying mobile app. 

The free Sidekick App gives you access to an entire library of recovery and technique videos to accompany their products, taking the guesswork out of programming and using the tools correctly for maximum effect. 

You can personalize your recovery sessions and even incorporate complete stretching and vibration foam rolling routines to accompany your muscle scraping practice.

The best recovery techniques are the ones you can develop into habits. Sidekick gives you all the tools you need to establish consistency and get the most out of your recovery efforts.

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