Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) is an effective method for treating soft tissue injuries. When the body is injured, it works to repair itself by creating scar tissue at the site of injury. While scar tissue helps to stabilize the injury, it typically makes the soft tissues less flexible while restricting their normal range of motion. IASTM involves combing over the site of injury, with specially designed tools, in an attempt to break up the newly forming, and pre-existing, scar tissue.
By applying pressure to the scar tissue the doctor is creating a low level of inflammation at the previous site of injury. This inflammation restarts the healing cycle, at which point specific stretches and exercises can be applied. While uninjured soft tissue fibers typically run parallel to one another, scar tissue forms in a haphazard fashion. By taking the injured soft tissue through specific movements we are able to influence the shape of the newly formed connective tissue, essentially limiting the amount of scar tissue and promoting proper flexibility/function.
Conditions commonly treated with IASTM include, but are not limited to:
- Tendinopathies (e.g. Biceps Tendinitis, Tennis Elbow, Etc.)
- Achilles Tendinosis
- Rotator Cuff Injuries
- IT-Band Syndrome
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Neck Pain
- Chronic Ankle Sprains
- Back Pain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A recent study, in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, found that baseball players had improved horizontal adduction (reaching across the chest) and internal rotation after just one treatment of IASTM to the posterior aspect of the shoulder. Another study, performed in 2007, found that IASTM was effective at improving nerve function, wrist strength, and wrist motion, in carpal tunnel patients, at six and twelve week follow-ups; patients also had self-reported improvements in symptom severity and functional status.
IASTM treatments are typically short, usually lasting just three to five minutes in duration. Due to the nature of IASTM, and its purpose of restarting the inflammatory cascade, it is common for the patient to feel minor discomfort after treatment. This discomfort typically lessons with repeated treatments, and is a sign that healing has begun. While IASTM is an effective treatment option for any demographic/age group, younger patients, athletes, and those that are physically active typically experience the greatest results.