If you are an athlete that frequents a training facility or if you are a patient in physical therapy, you may have been exposed to some strange looking tools that look like torture devices. Whether or not you have used them yet, or should we say allowed someone to try them on you yet, is a whole different story!
As a physical therapy clinic, we try to stay up-to-date with the latest in the rehabilitation field and one of the more recent things we have seen work for our physical therapy patients is Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (also referred to as IASTM). But what is it? Does it work?
What is IASTM?
IASTM stands for Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization. It is a manual therapy technique that incorporates different shaped tools. These tools were created with physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and athletic trainers in mind – aimed to help these medical professionals treat their professionals while saving their hands (i.e. fatigue after treating 23 patients in a day).
The therapist chooses the tool that is appropriate for the injured area and applies lotion to the site that they are going to treat. They then rub the tool against the skin in what most call a “scraping motion.” While the tools may be uncomfortable while being used, the treatment is very short; 1-2 minutes at most! Following the treatment, the therapist will recommend that you do not ice as the purpose of the IASTM treatment is to promote blood flow to the area (ice discourages that!). Following treatment, the patient may notice slight bruising or redness of the area which is normal. Again, IASTM works to promote blood flow to the area, hence the bruising and/or redness.
Sound familiar? Some people may know this as the Graston technique.
Who do they use IASTM on?
There are a number of different conditions and reasons that the medical professional you are seeing may want to use these tools on you. All reasons relate to your soft tissues:
Limited range of motion: Whether it’s your anatomical make up or if you’ve had a surgery that resulted in limited range of motion (the ability to move), IASTM works to break up the abnormalities in the fascia.
Pain during movement: If you have been diagnosed as having tendonitis of a specific joint, carpal tunnel syndrome, IT Band Syndrome, or something similar caused by inflammation, IASTM stimulates a local inflammatory response that encourages the blood to flow to that targeted area leading to a decrease in pain.
Some of the most common injuries or conditions that medical professionals may use the tools to treat include: patellar tendinitis, IT band syndrome, shin splints, rotator cuff tendinitis, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fascitis, muscle strains, trigger finger, back pain, ankle sprains, hip pain, chronic headaches, and tennis elbow.
Does it work?
As with almost everything in the medical field, there are arguments for and against IASTM. So far, the patients that we have used the tools on have seen great improvements in their functionality & mobility. Some even ASK for the tools to be used during their treatment sessions.
For example, we recently had a patient suffering from an Achilles tendon injury. After being treated with the tools, we asked them about their experience. They said, “The IASTM treatment combined with massage made a huge difference. For the first time in 35 years I can see my ankle bone. I have no pain and greater mobility."
IASTM is another modality we've added to our tool box here at Envision Sport Physical Therapy & Pilates, but it is not the ONLY treatment method we rely on. There is a small percentage of our patients that we actually use the tools on. If you have questions regarding the technique or are interested in adding it to your care plan, feel free to contact us.
Mike Reinold.com, "Graston Technique: A Case Study and Other Thoughts on Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization Techniques" by https://mikereinold.com/graston-technique-instrumented-assisted-soft-tissue-mobilization-iastm/