What is IASTM in Physical Therapy?
Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) is a type of manual massage therapy used by physical therapists. Commonly known as the Graston Technique, this type of treatment can be beneficial for many people with movement restrictions, tension, and pain.
The Taylor and Francis journal defines IASTM as “a skilled intervention that includes using specialized tools to manipulate the skin, myofascia, muscles, and tendons by using various direct compressive stroke techniques.”
What does IASTM Do?
Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization helps break down restrictions, reduce pain, and facilitate healing by addressing musculoskeletal problems at the cellular level.
At the musculoskeletal level, a facial restriction is often a combination of scar tissue and adhesions built up over time. Ortho Bethesda does a great job explaining that “Scar tissue and adhesions essentially act like superglue in your body. When scar tissue is created after injury, new cells are laid down excessively and in a disorganized manner. Scar tissue/ adhesions prevent the muscle or other tissues from lengthening appropriately.”
IASTM is a way for physical therapists to use controlled microtrauma to stimulate a natural inflammatory response. When your body produces an inflammatory response, it triggers a series of events that include reabsorption of excess scar tissue and fibrosis that is causing restriction.
Additionally, IASTM also triggers a vascular response resulting in increased blood flow and improved healing. There is even a neural effect throughout pain receptors along the skin responsible for managing pain.
Who can benefit from IASTM?
IASTM treatment can be beneficial for a variety of impairments and conditions. It can be beneficial for many people undergoing orthopedic surgery, people that sit for long hours in an office, and athletes after intense training or injuries. Your physical therapist may provide you this manual therapy for impairments such as:
- Limited mobility
- Pain with motion
- Loss of range of motion
- Decreased muscle recruitments
- Excessive scar tissue formation
More specific conditions that benefit from the application of IASTM include:
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Neck Pain
- IT Band Syndrome
- Heel Pain/ Achilles Tendinitis
- Ankle Sprains and Strains
- Back Pain
- Shin Splints
- Post Surgical Hip and Knee Replacements
- Musculoskeletal Imbalances
- Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
- Myofascial Pain and Restrictions
For certain conditions, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization may not be recommended. These can include having:
- Unhealed Fracture
- Uncontrolled Hypertension
- Open Wound
- Patient Hypersensitivity
What to expect during and after an IASTM Treatment
IASTM treatments during physical therapy sessions are often paired with a warm-up such as heat, stationary bike, elliptical machine, or light jogging to make the tissue more pliable. After a warm-up, your therapist can begin working with stainless steel, plastic, or titanium instruments that contour to your body in order to find the specific tissue and muscles that are restricted.
Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization starts with gentle pressure and steadily increases in order to effectively treat the areas causing pain and movement restrictions. At Balanced Physical Therapy, we encourage open communication and let our therapists know when the pressure becomes too uncomfortable to tolerate.
After the IASTM treatment, most patients follow up with more exercise to help restore better movement patterns. Some soreness after treatments is considered normal; patients should not panic because it does go away and gets less severe with multiple treatments. If you are attending physical therapy anywhere from 2-3 times per week, a noticeable result can be felt by the 3rd or 4th appointment (sometimes even on the first treatment). When IASTM is combined with exercise, stretching, and a focused effort on home exercises, patients can progress reasonably quickly through their recovery.
If you would like to learn more about IASTM or are experiencing pain, tension and movement restrictions give us a call to speak with a therapist. Our team is always ready to help you make the best decision with regard to your overall health and wellness.