When Muscle Scraping Causes Harm

When Muscle Scraping Causes Harm Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic

18 Jan When Muscle Scraping Causes Harm

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You’ve been muscle scraping, have you?

Or maybe the chiropractor, physical therapist, or massage therapist you’re seeing uses muscle scraping.

You think to yourself:

  • “Redness is good.”
  • “No matter what I feel, I’ll just do some muscle scraping after the workout and that’ll fix me.”
  • “If there’s pain or tightness during the workout, I’ll just muscle scrape before the next workout.”
  • “I can do no harm with muscle scraping.”

What if you COULD DO HARM?

Let’s dive into the GOOD and BAD around muscle scraping.

Why bother muscle scraping?

Most athletes don’t want to STOP doing their beloved activity.

Chances are, whether you play a sport, CrossFit, run, do triathlons, Orangetheory, spin, or yoga, the thought of having to give up your activity is a non-negotiable.

At Barefoot Rehab in Denville, NJ, where we specialize in permanent pain relief for people in chronic pain, it’s very common for chronic pain sufferers to get anxiety or depression after giving up the activities they love to do.

Remember Sy Sperling from Hair Club for Men?

Remember, I’m not only the Hair Club President, but I’m also a client. ~Sy Sperling


I’ve had to stop playing rugby and doing CrossFit due to injuring myself over and over again.

I’m not only the Clinic Director of Barefoot Rehab, but I have chronic pain and depression too. ~Me

Let’s be honest.

Your GENERAL goal for muscle scraping is this:

To continue doing your favorite thing AS LONG AS POSSIBLE.

You muscle scrape to make your tightness or pain go away so you can workout TODAY.

You don’t realize that the way you’re muscle scraping will take away your ability to workout in the metaphorical TOMORROW.

At some point, if you neglect PRIMARY PROBLEMS, your problem will cause enough pain that it stops you from working out.

It might be in a few weeks, months, or even 2-3 years.

But you’re guaranteed to STOP working out sooner than you want to if you blindly muscle scrape yourself.

Instead, if you’re going to muscle scrape, it needs to be for a SPECIFIC PURPOSE.

Muscle Scrape to get PERMANENT Results

To get muscle scraping done in an EFFECTIVE, SAFE way that achieves your GENERAL goal: You must have less tightness or pain progressively over 5 “treatments” or over a 17 day period.

Having an expectation for what’s possible allows you to know when you’re potentially risking permanently damaging a joint.

  • No permanent pain or tightness relief in 5 visits or less? High Risk.
  • Any incremental relief in pain or tightness in 5 visits or less? Low Risk.

This is why at Barefoot Rehab, we have a 5 Visit Rule.

The 5 Visit Rule

EVERY SINGLE tightness or pain intervention you might get must respect the 5 Visit Rule.

If you don’t have at least 5% permanent relief in tightness or pain, STOP THE INTERVENTION.

Sometimes at the clinic, we’ll get a patient who has been stretching their hamstrings for years.

When we ask them:

How much more flexible are you from all of that stretching? How long are you flexible for after stretching?

They get this puzzled look on their face and respond after a 10 second pause:

I’m loose for 10 minutes before it tightens up again.

Facetiously, I say:

Can we agree that you need to stop stretching your hamstrings now? It’s not working. There’s no sustained result.

We won’t even go into how static stretching displays ZERO injury prevention effects.

Having an expectation allows you to modify behaviors accordingly.

Now, you know what your purpose SHOULD be when muscle scraping or even stretching.


So you don’t have to waste your time, energy, or money.

Can You Muscle Scrape Yourself?

In theory, yes.

In my biased opinion, Integrative Diagnosis doctors and therapists are the best in the world at manual therapy.

  • Manual therapy: the use of hands or instruments to get permanent changes in tightness or pain

While I do treat my own forearms and feet, it’s very difficult to do and it often comes at the cost of irritating my skin.

If it’s hard for me to do with over 10 years of training, it’ll be nearly impossible for you to muscle scrape yourself.

A few months ago, we had a patient from Virginia drive up to New Jersey for a week of treatment with us.

He was trying to muscle scrape his own hamstring tendinosis.

I explain why it’s physically impossible to muscle scrape your own hamstring tendons below.

He wasn’t able to feel any grit!


For an individual holding an instrument to feel grit AND contort their body in a way that puts enough TENSION on it so the adhesion can be torn, they’d have to be a circus monkey.

The body just doesn’t move in a way that you can fulfill the purpose you’re trying to achieve.

It’ll likely be dead silent when muscle scraping yourself.

There’s a specific sound you should be looking for when muscle scraping.

What Muscle Scraping Is FIXING

To muscle scrape effectively, the person holding the instrument MUST feel grit.

Otherwise, you’re putting pressure on the target tissue and that’s merely bringing blood flow with your pressure. Pressure doesn’t bring permanent changes.

To feel grit, there needs to be tension on the targeted muscle.

If you’re not sure what I mean by tension, check out this RUBBER BAND.

The grit you or your manual therapist MUST feel is evidence of the most common cause of chronic pain and tightness in the body.

It’s kinda like glue in the muscles called ADHESION.

I’ll argue that almost any muscle scraping you undergo should be for the purpose of breaking adhesion.


When the adhesion is really bad and the instrument is treats effectively, it’ll sound pretty gross.

Many people liken it to “nails on a chalkboard.”

It’s possible that you might NOT HEAR the grit.

The main determining factor of effective muscle scraping is the FEEL of grit by the person who has the instrument in his/her hand.

There are certain locations that can’t be treated effectively with an instrument, no matter the practitioner’s skill level.

Muscle Scraping Removes ADHESION When 1″ Close to the Skin

There are rules that must be followed to get effective muscle scraping to tear out adhesion.

Most importantly, the ADHESION must be within 1″ of the skin.

It’s NOT physically possible to treat:

  • the psoas under your intestines
  • longus coli under your trachea
  • subscapularis under all of your armpit skin.

Treatment to these tissues will only irritate the skin and can potentially damage more sensitive tissues.

Remember, you want to treat ONLY the adhesion.

There’s no need to “paint your body part red” the way many gua sha practitioners do, damaging healthy tissue.

Eastern philosophy healers traditionally made a large region of your body red to induce a fever.

You DO NOT need a fever to get permanent pain relief.

You DO NEED to get the adhesion removed, and only the adhesion.

A tissue that often has lots of adhesion in chronic low back pain sufferers, responds extremely well to “muscle scraping” and hardly at all to manual therapy done by hand isn’t even a muscle at all.

It’s the size of a piece of angel hair pasta.

A ligament called the supraspinous ligament in the lumbar spine.

When adhesed, this ligament creates a nutcracker effect on your lumbar discs, greatly increasing the stress on them.

No amount of muscle work will help your chronic low back pain if the supraspinous ligament has significant adhesion.

The best thing about using muscle scraping effectively?

Flexibility increases and sustained pain relief often happens IMMEDIATELY!

Rules for Effective Muscle Scraping

Remember, your big picture goal is longevity.

You want to do your activity as long as possible.

Your specific goal when muscle scraping is to remove adhesion and noticing permanent changes that last.

To muscle scrape effectively:

  • Respect the 5 Visit Rule and observe at least 5% relief in pain or tightness in 5 “treatments” or less.
  • Don’t muscle scrape yourself.
  • Get a skilled Integrative Diagnosis doctor/therapist to perform Instrument Adhesion Release on you.
  • Make sure you feel and hear grit.
  • The muscle (or tissue) must be within 1″ of the skin.

Follow these rules and you can expect to be working out 30 years from now.

Break them at your own peril.

If you have chronic tightness or pain that hasn’t gone away in over 6 months and you’ve already seen at least 3 doctors or therapists, Barefoot Rehab in Denville, NJ, is the ONLY clinic in New Jersey certified to find and fix adhesion. Give us a call at 862-205-4847 to see if you’re a candidate for the PERMANENT pain relief we offer our patients.

speechbubblesWhat has your experience been with muscle scraping? Share in the comments below.

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Dr. Chris Stepien, DC, Full-Body ID Certified, ART Certified, CSCS, and CrossFit Level 1 Certified, fixes your annoying and frustrating pains, even when it's been over 6 months and you've seen 3-5 other doctors or therapists without lasting relief Barefoot Rehab in Denville, NJ. And when you're sad, depressed, or not enjoying life, Dr. Chris wants to hug you. He invites you to reach out, no matter what your concern is. Barefoot Rehab is here to serve you.
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  • Bowen
    Posted at 17:59h, 20 May Reply

    “I am trying to help but to the point where I will benefit” … That’s what I read.
    Things you could have said:
    – Areas you can scrape yourself and areas you can’t
    = How to scrape correctly and what not to do

    Scraping is an amazing way for someone to break up scar tissue and break down fascia. Scraping as a quick fix can be good but if the problem persists then the issue is only being bandaged, you need to get more clear help!

  • Eileen Wagner
    Posted at 21:52h, 15 September Reply

    After total knee replacement, my PT has scraped my thigh (up to my panty line), the outside of my knee, and the ITB. Originally, I was told the pain was from muscles and ligaments finding the their ways home. Then I was vaguely told it was scar tissue. I question the necessity of scraping the band as the procedure actually makes me cry and I have lots of pain for a few days afterwards. The PT assures me that’s a normal response. Ummm … what do you think?

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 14:46h, 16 September Reply

      Treatment shouldn’t be that painful. Although you would have a little more pain due to knee replacement. I’d be spending more time on your sciatic nerve, hams, calves, and feet as those tissues are likely adhesed and the ITB is likely overactive.

  • Ray Pasquale
    Posted at 13:50h, 26 October Reply

    My son had tommy john surgery and is in month 6 of rehab. The PT is doing a lot of work to strengthen his shoulder. His thought is he has not used those muscles and wants to help prevent any injuries when he starts throwing fully. Makes sense to me. He mentions scrapping his shoulders as from therapy he is very tight and sore. What are your thoughts?

    • Dr. Chris
      Posted at 23:10h, 27 October Reply

      Hi Ray, Yes treating the shoulder, arm, forearm, and hand would be helpful to return to normal mechanics. In my experience, scraping works really well for the forearm but horribly for the shoulder. The reason is because the trap is over the rotator cuff muscles and therefore, you can’t get good grit with an instrument. But if it’s improving his range every single visit, then it must be working.

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