IASTM is the acronym for Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization. Soft tissue pathology plays a primary role in limiting mobility, often resulting in profound loss of functional for those with injuries. Physical Therapists have always used their hands in treatment of patients to increase blood flow and break up restrictions in injured soft tissue. However, it is nearly impossible for fingers alone to detect restrictions at deeper levels or treat the full range of restrictions in injured tissue. The ancient Chinese medical treatment where skin, muscles, and fascia are manipulated by a hand held instrument producing light bruising or petechiae is called Gua sha. IASTM is a therapeutic method based from Gua sha.
Using IASTM, the therapist can diagnose and treat disorders of the skeletal muscles and related connective tissue using tools. The method employs a collection of stainless steel tools of a particular shape and size, which are used by therapists to massage patients’ muscles in order to detect and resolve adhesions in the muscles and tendons. The stainless steel instruments have the highest resonation and make it easier to feel both local and broad areas of tissue restriction allowing for more localized and efficient treatment of soft tissue injuries. Due to the variety of shapes and sizes of the tools, several companies have now developed their own handheld tools to perform instrument-assisted soft-tissue mobilization. Graston is one of the leading “branded” techniques when it comes to IASTM.
Why perform IASTM and How does it work?
The two main functions of IASTM are to 1) break up abnormalities in soft tissues like scar tissue and 2) re-initiate the first-stage healing process in the body. After an initial injury, the body sends blood with healing substances to repair the injury which builds scar tissue. A few months post initial injury, the body has completed most of its self-healing process. This process is now considered a “chronic” condition where scar tissue has built up and then restricts motion. At this point, it is necessary for the Physical Therapist to restart the healing process. IASTM causes a mild injury to the tissue which re-starts this process over again and helps the body heal itself. For IASTM to re-initiate the first-stage healing it essentially needs to re-injure the body, although to a lesser degree. This procedure may cause discomfort during the procedure and possible bruising afterward. Patients may also experience soreness in the treatment area for a day or two following IASTM. However, after IASTM treatment the patient’s pain will decrease, range of motion will improve, and this will lead to overall improvement in their functional mobility.
Dr. Jennifer Stasko has taken additional training in IASTM and is able to effectively perform this type of treatment on soft tissue injuries.