ART & Graston Technique: there’s a first time for everything

Earlier this week I had my first visit to a chiropractor’s office to get ART & Graston Technique. I wanted to outline it here because I really didn’t know what to expect, except that it would hurt, and it works. Everyone I’ve heard talk about it, in person or online, never had much to say or would recount their experience. But I learned so much stuff I don’t want to forget.

I haven’t mentioned it on the blog, really because this has turned into a journal of my race recaps more than anything, but I was seeing a physical therapist for several weeks in July & August.

Long story short, my right hamstring was permanently aching. I could still run, and while it didn’t hurt, I wished it felt like…well, like my left leg felt. Sitting for long periods was so uncomfortable, and going from sitting, to standing, to walking was equally uncomfortable until I’d walked a few steps and loosened my leg up. I’d been diligent about my exercises at home during this training cycle, but was lacking on the cross training at the gym. Maybe that was it? Maybe it was that I built up to 65+ miles much quicker than I did in the spring than when I was training for Boston?

Either way, I saw the PT, and she gave me some exercises and stretches to add into my routine, and would use an electronic stimulater thing on my leg that would both warm my muscles and, I guess stimulate them πŸ™‚ Then she’d massage my leg, and it all helped. The ache wasn’t as constant as it used to be, and I wasn’t worried about getting injured like I had been.

For real – I cried after a few runs before seeing the PT because I was convinced it was going to turn into an injury.Β Drama queen much?

Sooooo why see a chiro? Well, my leg isn’t 100% back to feeling like my left leg, and I know of other runners who’ve used either ART and Graston, or a combination of both to keep running while simultaneously working on their bodies.

I checked my insurance (hooray! it’s covered with a $30 copay, no referral needed!), and booked an appointment. I filled out a bunch of forms ahead of time explaining where I was hurting, what may have caused it, what activities it was impacting, etc, then showed up, ready to go.

Dr. C. spend the first 10 minutes or so asking me about my running history – how many marathons I’d done, what my goal was for Chicago, if I stretched before or after runs, what shoes I ran in, how many miles I put on shoes before retiring them, etc.

I quickly learned that I needed a foam roller. The Stick wasn’t enough. I needed to be able to use my body weight when rolling, not just the strength of my arms. It’s ok if someone else was using The Stick on me, but I haven’t yet been able to convince my boyfriend to do it for me πŸ˜‰

Then I was up and Dr. C was examining my body to see what kind of condition I was in. She was touching and tweaking me, and pointing out her findings along the way.

A brush of her finger between my shoulders quickly pointed out that my left shoulder blade juts out more than my right.

Her hands on my hips, wrapped around me showed me that my left hip was higher than my right. This was when my jaw dropped.

My spine had a slight curve in it.

When I was lying on my back, with my knees bent, my left knee is lower than the right.

So my left side needed adjusting, and to be strengthened. All along I thought my right leg was the weaker of the two since it had developed the problem, but it’s because I was putting more pressure on it during runs because my dang left side can’t do it’s job as well!

Dr C. explained that every muscle in the body has at least one trigger point. We are happy when these trigger points are sleeping. When they wake up, they cause pain, and the pain can radiate from that trigger point along the muscle, and hit another muscle where the pain continues spreading, until it reaches another trigger point. So on and so forth. Of course, this is assuming someone doesn’t take any action when they first feel pain.

She explained that I likely had a couple trigger points in my leg that needed to “go back to sleep”. The hamstring connects to the quads and IT band just around the knee, where I sometimes indicated I could feel a twinge. She explained she was going to use Graston and ART to separate the muscles and hit the trigger points.

What’s the difference between the two?

GrastonΒ Technique was developed by athletes, and uses stainless steel tools to find and break down scar tissue and fascial restrictions.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 7.42.24 PM


Active Release Therapy (ART) was developed by Dr. Michael Leahy andΒ is a soft tissue massage technique. –Β source

Then she got to work. She started with Graston on my right leg, rubbing a thin tool about 8 inches long up and down my hamstring. She pointed out when she was lower on the hamstring, toward my knee, there was a grittiness. I felt it – it was like just underneath my skin there was rough sandpaper, then as she slide the tool up my leg, it smoothed out.

After a few minutes of that, she started with ART. It was SO painful. I could see her digging into my hamstring with her elbow while she chatted to me about races she’d done, and I shared some of my experiences and goals with her. (Who doesn’t love to talk about running?) But there were times all I could do was gasp and clench my hands tight on the table, waiting for it to be over. She used her thumbs to press between my hamstring and IT muscles, were they come together on the outside of the knee, then it was time for me to flip over. I thought it would be less painful on my quads since they weren’t the reason I sought out treatment, but it felt just as bad. Once I even repeated “that hurts so much, omg that hurts, that hurts” repeatedly to her, in total shock as it felt like she was stabbing my muscles.

I’d heard it doesn’t feel good, but I was expecting something like how tempos don’t feel good. They aren’t fun, but they don’t hurt, they’re more uncomfortable than anything. This, on the other hand, does. I’m not sure if it’ll get less painful the more often I go (I hope so!), but I do absolutely consider it worth it.

After beating my muscles into submission, I was out of Dr. C’s office and working Dr. B. This part reminded me of PT – I was hooked up to a muscle stimulator, while lying on padded table with a back massager built in, almost like you’d find at Brookstone.

This was nice. I layed there relaxing for a while before Dr. B. showed me a quick foam rolling routine to hit the major leg muscles, and a few new stretches to incorporate for my hamstring.

I won’t be heading back again until after Chicago……but I’m excited to have these experts to work with, and to continue with the therapy πŸ™‚

Have you ever tried ART or Graston Technique?


17 thoughts on “ART & Graston Technique: there’s a first time for everything

  1. Ben has done ART a couple of times and swears by them. I don’t think they hurt less each time you go, but maybe you get used to the pain? You’re brave. I kinda like pain, but ART seemed like it was too much for me.

    • Most people I know that’ve done it swear by it, otherwise I’m not sure I’d be open to going back for another painful session.
      I don’t know if it’s too much for you, or maybe you just don’t need it πŸ˜‰ That’s a good thing I’d think, saves money, time and no pain!

  2. I am all too familiar with this, and it does get a little better! If it hurts, you know they are on the right spot:) I hope that the treatment got out some of those knots for you!

    • Ah thanks Lisa, you are so reassuring! I’m glad to know it gets better, but also that pain means they’re in the right spot.
      I’ve already noticed a positive change when I go from sitting to standing to walking, so we’re off to a good start πŸ™‚

    • Wow, I can’t say I saw pictures of bruising! (Thank goodness, not sure I would’ve scheduled an appointment if I’d seen that)
      I hurts more than rolling for sure (I use a lacrosse ball), but I imagine if push came to shove, you might know when to consider it. I became desperate when no matter how much rolling or stretching I did it didn’t help.
      Consider yourself lucky for not needing to try it out πŸ™‚

  3. I’ve never tried either, but have been thinking about it for after NYC. I think it would do my muscles well before jumping back into another training cycle.

  4. i go to ART weekly (and she occasionally does graston as well). went today for a tuneup before a half im running on sunday. im sure the rest of the patients in the waiting room can hear me scream and curse as she works on my QL! after going for years, i wont tell you it will get easier, but your body will thank you…afterwards πŸ™‚

    • Lol- I’m glad I’m not the only one that can’t keep quiet! I almost felt like a wuss when I was repeating how much it hurt. At first I was trying to just wince & be quiet about it…but I’m not sure that’s possible for the entire session, lol!
      Bummer that it won’t get any easier to handle, but I think it’s worth it to keep my body happy. I’m glad I know of another runner that thinks it is πŸ™‚
      Good luck on your half!

  5. I am so excited to hear that you found such an awesome chiro. I have one, my insurance doesn’t cover him so I only go to him when I feel really whacked out. I’ve gotten both graston and ART done and they are painful but so effective! They are both scary in a sense that if the wrong person is doing them, they could do more damage. But honestly, just reading what you wrote about your chiro – she knows whats up and I would totally trust her. I had a PT guy that was a boss at graston and was the only person who could fix an ongoing plantar fasciitis issue. I’d gone for ART, graston, and accupuncture through someone else and nothing would help…then the PT guy did Graston on me and it was basically gone!! Nice job on listening to your body and staying on top of little tweaks πŸ™‚

    • That stinks that your insurance doesn’t cover it! You seem to do a pretty good job keeping yourself healthy though (except when your students get you sick!), so it’s good you don’t need it regularly. πŸ™‚
      I’m so glad I found someone right away who clearly knows her stuff too! It really sucks trying to find a good provider, regardless of what service you’re looking for. Time consuming and expensive!
      I’m glad she went so in depth explaining everything to me too, not only was it interesting, but I feel better knowing the why behind the how of ART & Graston.
      Thank you! I’m trying to stay on top of everything – the last thing I want is for a little twinge to turn into an injury that sidelines me for months!

      • My insurance covers most chiropractors, but not the one I like and trust!! I’ve definitely had my fair share of injuries and I know the benefit to going to a good chiro. Enjoy your sessions with her! I also really like to use massage therapy, too. So beneficial to work out the little tweaks we deal with when running the kind of mileage we run!

  6. I had no idea this was going on for you. I’m so out of the loop. I’m glad you’ve found something that seems to be helping though! I’ve never done either of these and hope I never have to from the sound of how painful it is!
    I hope your marathon goes well and your continued treatment afterwards really fixes everything πŸ™‚ Good luck!

    • I’m glad I found it too – I really like the 2 chiros, and even though it’s painful, I know it’s well worth it. (The positive reviews from everyone else helps too, lol).
      Thank you! Good luck at Steamtown! I’m going to have so much fun stalking you and everyone else via social media on Sunday night πŸ˜‰

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