Do PTs today practice medieval therapy techniques? An ABC affiliate in San Francisco seems to think we use medieval tools, anyway. The technique reported on is the Graston Technique,® an aggressive form of soft tissue mobilization aimed at breaking up adhesions between fascia and muscle fibers using specialized tools. In theory, this treatment is essentially the same as aggressive STM; the difference lies in the use of the specialized tools.
So do the tools really make the technique more effective than traditional STM? The literature results are extremely limited. Only one study directly compared STM and the Graston Technique ®:
Burke et al. compared Graston Techniques ® to regular STM provided by the therapist’s hands for the treatment of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. They resulted no clinical differences between the two groups, but did substantiate the clinical efficacy of conservative treatment for mild to moderate CTS.
Perhaps the effectiveness of the Graston Technique ® occurs from the ability to detect adhesions better than manual palpation alone. Users report feeling vibrations or hearing clicks as they move the tools over adhesions that were not detected by palpation. There are a few case studies that report solely on the effectiveness of the Graston technique.
Hammer reports on the ability of the Graston Technique ® user to both feel and target treatment on areas of degenerated tissues in three cases involving plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonosis, and supraspinatus tendonosis.
Aspergren et al. effectively used thoracic (HVLAT) manipulation and the Graston Technique ® to treat a collegiate volleyball player with acute costochondritis. Although the authors did not compare to thoracic manipulation plus manual STM, pain and functional levels improved.
Other foreseeable benefits include the ability to really dig-in during STM and saving your own joints as a PT, benefits that may also be found in simple massage tools. The side effects include being too painful for many patients and causing bruising in some patients. In all, more research needs to be performed comparing the technique to regular STM by independent examiners.
Bottom line: for now, trust in your hands – they have been around since before medieval times, and are the most powerful tool a PT possesses.
1. Burke J, Buchberger DJ, Carey-Loghmani MT, et al. A pilot study comparing two manual therapy interventions for carpal tunnel syndrome. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2007;30(1):50-61.
2. Hammer WI. The effect of mechanical load on degenerated soft tissue. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2008;12(3):246-256.
3. Aspegren D, Hyde T, Miller M. Conservative treatment of a female collegiate volleyball player with costochondritis. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2007;30(4):321-325.