A Brief Introduction to Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM)

Ryan LaCorte Olivia Santamaria, Publications

What is soft tissue?

The term “Soft tissue” refers to the fascia (connective tissue), muscles, tendons, and ligaments that make up the body. Injuries to these areas are a common cause of pain and dysfunction that causes patients to seek the assistance of a physical or occupational therapist. There are a variety of techniques used to treat these conditions, including exercise, modalities, and manual therapies. Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) is one of the manual techniques a physical or occupational therapist can use to treat these injuries.

What is IASTM, and why is it used?

When soft tissue injuries occur, the natural processes of the body lay down new cells to heal the injury. These cells are often laid down in a disorganized pattern and they can bind to the underlying tissues, ultimately restricting the mobility of these structures. Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization involves the use of tools to mobilize the soft tissue structures of the body. These tools come in many shapes and sizes, and are made of a variety of materials, such as stainless steel, plastic, jade, and ceramic. While the tools may differ in shape and material, they share the common purpose of assisting the clinician with mobilizing the injured soft tissue in order to reduce adhesions (scar tissue), increase blood flow to the injured area, and encourage healing of the damaged tissue.

What injuries are most commonly treated with IASTM?

The different shapes and edges of the tools allow the clinician to use them around all of the different contours of the body, which make them useful for most conditions seen in the clinic. These tools can be used to break down scar tissue after surgery, decrease pain caused by sprains and strains to ligaments and muscles, reduce swelling/edema, and alleviate nerve restrictions. Common conditions that warrant use of IASTM treatment are joint replacements, Rotator cuff tears and surgical repairs, plantar fasciitis, muscle strains, and tendonitis.

What should I expect?

Your physical or occupational therapist will evaluate you at your initial visit to determine if your condition warrants the use of IASTM. This will not be the primary treatment, but rather one technique your therapist uses to assist in your recovery. The technique itself involves the clinician using the tool in a scraping motion along the surface of the skin. In order to “re-start” the healing process, your therapist is causing a micro-trauma to the injured area to encourage the body to heal itself. Therefore, temporary redness, heat sensation, and sometimes bruising are normal immediately following treatment, and there may be some soreness or discomfort. It is important to not be alarmed by these symptoms, and recognize that these are temporary symptoms being closely monitored by your therapist. After several treatments, there should be a noticeable change in mobility and function. IASTM, combined with your exercise program, can help you return to your normal daily activities and hobbies.


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