Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


What is this Graston thing?

Graston technique is mentioned quite a bit here and I am sure a lot of you are wondering what exactly Graston is. Graston technique was something completely new and unheard of to me a little over a year and a half a go, but it has been a large part of my pain treatment process and has really helped me regain and retain range of motion, and has reduced my over all pain levels significantly.

Graston was developed by an athlete who suffered a knee injury and, like myself, grew frustrated at the available pain management options. After the technique was studied and tested in Indiana Universities a clinic opened in 1994 and began offering the technique to patients. If you are familiar with cupping, Graston is a similar concept in that it draws blood to injured areas. Graston helps to deal with muscle spasms and break up scar tissue as well though, which can cause a lot of pain and other issues. So instead of drawing blood to that area with a cup and vacuum, it is drawn by scraping from a metal, or plastic, tool.

Graston tools in stainless steel, not as scary to have used on you as you would first think

The scraping draws the blood to the injury as it breaks up adhesion and scar tissue, which can form with some injuries, and spasms. It can be painful as the adhesions, effectively fuse the muscles fibers together, but the relief once they are broken up is well worth the discomfort. You can see how it looks and the difference it makes in range of motion in this video –

I remember when I was first referred by my pain doctor to start using Graston, I was extremely skeptical when my chiropractor told me it would be about 3 weeks and I would feel better. I had been doing massage, physical therapy for years and almost a year’s worth of injections and was still using my cane and only had limited range of motion. After the first week, I felt like this might have something to it. Second week, I was a full blown believer, and by the third week I was feeling better than I had in years. My cane is now a thing of the past, and while I do occasionally need some “touch up” work on my lower back it is almost completely pain free. We are now attacking my shoulders and neck, and this has even brought about significant relief for my migraines which are much less frequent, and this is much less painful (not to mention less dangerous) than having Botox injections to deal with the migraines.

There are two things that can be off putting about it, and that is it causes bruises and while scraping there can be sounds. The sounds, once you get used to it, are quite good sounds, since it means stuff is breaking up. But when you first hear the scraping turn from mostly silent to sounding like walking on gravel, it can be a bit disconcerting. The other is the bruises, and it is more having to explain them that is more annoying than going through a sitting of Graston. I have had to explain to many nurses that no, there is nothing I need to talk about and yes, I am fine. I also have to remember to not wear shirts that show the bruises or you will sometimes get approached in public, and asked questions that sometimes take a while to explain. Or some people will give any male you are talking to the dirtiest of looks. But after seeing how much I bruise, since I bruise like a peach anyway, you can understand how people can assume the worst.

As you can see, it looks "intense"

As you can see, it looks “intense” and yes, those are X-Files toys on the shelf behind me.

Remember this should only be done by a certified Graston professional, and you should definitely interview them before going to them regularly. If they don’t scrape hard enough it isn’t going to work as well or as fast, so don’t look for a soft hand.

Graston should be used in concert with physical therapy (or regular stretching and exercise), massage, and your other pain management routines. Do some research on what and who is available in your area, who is covered by your insurance and so on. Talk to your doctors and make sure this is a right choice of treatment for you!

If you are in the Austin area I highly recommend seeing Dr Alton, for information go here.

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Arnica, a klutz’s best friend

Arnica is a member of the sunflower family, with soft furry leaves that are most likely the origin of its name since arna is lamb in Greek. Only the flowers are used in herbal medicine, and while rare is a large part of local medicine where ever it grows. It is a fairly global phenomenon, growing in the more chilly higher elevations across Europe, Siberia and North America. Used for centuries for topical treatment of bruises, sore muscles, and healing. It is a great anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and personally I use it quite often to treat bruises and sore muscles.


photo by lunatik2811

Plus look how happy it looks! 🙂

It is great for after a session of Graston, after some intense exercise, or will even alleviate the irritation of sunburn. Graston sessions tend to produce bruising, and the application of arnica means less time between visits and therefore faster improvements in my mobility or reduction in pain. 

One of the common ways to find arnica is as an oil infusion. You can apply this directly to any painful area, or sore muscles. Any bump or bruise is a good candidate for treatment. As an oil it isn’t easily portable for use on the go or at work, so when I am traveling I carry a spray version of it.

Arnica Bumps & Bruises Spray

  • 2 oz spray bottle
  • witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
  • distilled water
  • 1 tablespoon arnica infusion oil

Put the tablespoon of arnica oil in the spray bottle, fill halfway with witch hazel or rubbing alcohol, and the rest of the way with water. Shake well before using and just spray and rub into sore areas.

If you would like to make your own oil infusion, it is fairly easy.

Arnica Oil Infusion

  • Clean mason jar (of any size)
  • Arnica flowers (enough to fill the jar shaking them down but not packing tightly but leaving about a half inch from the top of the jar)
  • A good quality oil (olive, avacado, jojoba, coconut, etc)
  • A sunny spot
  • citric acid (optional, will help to preserve and extend shelf life)

Fill jar with flowers, leaving gap at top for expansion, and then cover completely with oil. Sit in a sunny spot and everyday turn the jar over once and back then set it back in its spot. It is ready for use in 2-3 days but if you let it sit for six weeks it will be at its most potent.

You can also prepare a good salve for soothing achey muscles or bruises with this recipe, by WellnessMama.

WellnessMama Arnica Salve

Directions: Warm oil in double boiler. Add beeswax and stir until melted. Add Wintergreen Oil in desired amount (warning-wintergreen is very strong!). Pour into desired storage container (we use small tins or little jam jars). Let cool.

Can be used on bruises, sprains, strains, head bumps, etc.

Sometimes if it is a particularly sore or difficult bruise or painful area a tincture works great. You can apply it to a towel for a compress, or directly on a gauze for all day application. You can make a tincture just like you do the oil, except replace the oil with vodka or grain alcohol and store in a cool instead of sunny place. It is also commonly available at herb stores and online in pre-made bottles.

Arnica Tincture for Bumps and Bruises

  • 1 tablespoon arnica tincture
  • 1 pint water (warm but not boiling if you are using a compress)
  • gauze pad or towel

Combine tincture and water and then dip towel in and wring out and apply for a compress, or dip gauze pad into it and wring out and tape to affected area.

Warning! Warning! Warning!

Like all remedies herbal or otherwise, treat this with respect. Arnica should never be taken internally. It is highly toxic, as it contains helenalin, and cause severe issues – liver, heart and kidney issues. No one wants those. Topically if you have sensitive skin it can cause irritation, always do a test patch first to see how you react before using it. Never use on open wounds, or take it internally at all.

Some sites do recommend that you can take homeopathic versions of it internally, since there is no actual molecules of the plant in most preparations they are basically safe. Personally, I do not encourage or endorse any homeopathic remedies, since they are proven through many clinical trials to do no better than a placebo, or contain even a molecule of the herbal item it is claimed to contain. So it is just a bit of a waste of time and your hard earned money.

Remember always do your research, check for interactions on sites like WebMD. If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!