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What is Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation?

Instrument-assisted soft tissue manipulation or mobilization (IASTM) is a skilled myofascial intervention employed to treat soft-tissue dysfunction related to musculoskeletal pathology. It is a non-invasive, soft tissue technique that is often used in physical therapy. It functions like a standard massage, but specialized instruments are utilized in place of a physical therapist’s hands. IASTM technique is applied utilizing instruments that are typically made of stainless steel with beveled edges and contours that can comply with different body anatomical structures and locations and enable deeper penetration. It is utilized for the identification and treatment of soft tissue disorders including spinal manipulation and myofascial pain syndrome.

Indications for Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation

Instrument-assisted soft tissue manipulation is typically recommended to treat soft tissue conditions such as injuries, sprains and strains, and others associated with soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and joints. While many people utilize IASTM technique as a treatment method for acute injuries such as strains, some prefer this type of therapy as a preventative measure particularly if they are extremely active and know they are at risk of developing overuse injuries. IASTM can help loosen up stiff muscles and tendons which enables your body to heal more swiftly and reduce your risk of chronic pain or re-injury in that region. IASTM can involve targeted or broad treatments. The former would be used for an injury to a specific area, the latter for large muscle groups, such as an injured back. By utilizing different tools, angles, and pressures, your therapist can focus on a particular layer of soft tissue during treatment.

How Does Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation Work?

An injury often results in the formation of scar tissue around the injured area. Scar tissue does not align with previous tissues which can cause reduced strength, restrictive movement, and decreased blood flow. IASTM utilizes a variety of specialized instruments on the body to apply pressure directly on the injured area/stiff muscles or tendons to realign and correct the alignment of tissues. The application of the pressure breaks down scar tissue, restores movement, mitigates inflammation, and alleviates pain. The friction of IASTM against the skin also causes a mild inflammatory reaction that brings blood flow with cells to the injured area which helps increase the healing process and speed up the recovery of injury.

Who is a Good Candidate for Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation?

Anyone with soft-tissue injuries, conditions, or pain can benefit from IASTM. These often include warehouse workers, athletes, or others who perform a repeated motion many times a day. Some of the many conditions that can be treated with IASTM include:

  • Muscle and ligament strains
  • Excessive scar tissue
  • Running injuries, such as iliotibial band syndrome and plantar fasciitis
  • Forms of tendinopathy or tendinitis, including golfer’s and tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis

However, some individuals are not good candidates for IASTM. If you have a degenerative joint condition, such as osteoarthritis, IASTM may assist in alleviating pain in the tissues surrounding the joint but not in the joint itself. Additionally, anyone with the following conditions should not seek IASTM treatment:

  • Bone fracture
  • An active form of cancer
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD), a circulatory condition that decreases blood flow to the legs or arms
  • Diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that can occur with diabetes

Benefits of Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation

Instrument-assisted soft tissue manipulation focuses on particular areas in the body to alleviate stiffness and improve the range of motion. This enables you to do exercises your physical therapist recommends to strengthen the injured area, which promotes healing and can help restore your normal function. Targeted IASTM treatments can have a number of benefits, such as:

  • Improved mobility
  • Faster pain relief
  • Rapid rehabilitation and recovery