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Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Massage (IASTM)

What Is Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization?

Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) is an intervention that is used by specially trained physical therapists to treat various soft tissue ailments.  It is a skill that includes the use of specialized tools on myofascia, muscles, tendons, and skin.

What Are the Instruments Used?

The instruments that are used with this form of mobilization come in various shapes and sizes, but in general they are made of stainless steel with beveled edges and curves that conform closely to the body’s natural anatomy.  The size of the instrument depends upon what body part is being treated, but most are between four to six inches long.   The shape of the instruments help to allow the treatment to be completed without any significant pain to the patient.  The therapist applies varying levels of force while using the instruments to allow for deeper penetration than can be achieved by their hands.   A properly trained therapist can detect tissue abnormalities as the instrument glides along the treatment area which allows for more effective outcomes.

How Is IASTM Utilized During the Rehabilitation Process?

IASTM is generally used in combination with other treatments during the same session to allow for maximum outcomes.  The portion of the session that uses IASTM generally can be completed within five to ten minutes, which allows for other treatments to be performed during the same session. These treatments may include moist heat, electric stimulation, stretching, or strengthening exercises.

What Is the History of IASTM?

IASTM has several theories on its origin, but the most common one is that it has evolved from a traditional Chinese treatment known as Gua sha, which used instruments to scrape the skin.  Clinicians that used Gua sha believed that the technique would remove bad chi through the skin.  Physical therapists believe that IASTM improves blood flow and breaks up scar tissue in an injured area which helps deliver the body’s healing properties which speeds up recovery times.  As the tissue recovers the physical therapist works to restore normal movement patterns which helps prevent the injury and pain from returning.  A patient will likely experience improved range of motion and strength, and a reduction in pain following a treatment session where IASTM is used.  Another advantage to the patient is that when used properly, IASTM can speed up healing times and decrease the number of treatment sessions needed.

What Can IASTM Be Used To Treat?

IASTM is used to treat a wide variety of common ailments.  These include:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle strains
  • Prevention of scar tissue formation following surgeries
  • Tendonitis/Tendinosis injuries
  • Athletic injuries
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic pain
  • ITB syndrome
  • Non-acute bursitis
  • Achilles Tendonitis

For further information regarding IASTM and to find out if this treatment is appropriate for you, please reach out to one of our physical therapists who will be happy to discuss this option with you.


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