What Is I.A.S.T.M.?
Instrument-assisted soft-tissue mobilization (IASTM) is a form of therapy where an “Instrument” or a “Tool” is used in place of the therapist’s hands. Patients with muscular-skeletal problems involving muscles and soft tissue (i.e. ligaments, tendons and fascia) who suffer from chronic pain may have their tissue “locked” in the healing cascade and unable to recover. IASTM creates micro-trauma to the blood supply around the injured site, in order to stimulate the body’s natural healing and immune system.
Once the body incurs an injury, the immune response aims to prevent further damage and repair the wound as quickly as possible, hence scar tissue. Scar tissue is not the same as the original skin, muscle, ligament, or tendon. The formation of scar tissue within the muscle is laid down in an irregular pattern, with limited functional strength. This is why there may be a reduced range of motion and pain in a muscle or joint that has been injured, or why a scar on the skin surface looks “tight” and non-uniform.
IASTM is also used to identify abnormal tissue tension throughout the length of the body, which the patient may be totally unaware of. IASTM treatment breaks up scar tissue at an injury site to initiate an inflammation response. This inflammation leads to the absorption of scar tissue and the production of new collagen to repair the injury site. Combined with controlled exercise, stretching, and cold therapy after treatment, the body restores normal tissue structure and function. Treatments are short, specific, and effective for a wide variety of ailments. The effects of IASTM include pain relief, increased flexibility, increased strength, enhanced recovery, and in most cases the complete resolution of symptoms.
Does it hurt?
When inflammation is induced, pain is quite common. Despite creating erythema (reddening of the skin), it’s common for the patient to regard the treatment as a “good hurt”. Often there is an immediate improvement in flexibility and decrease in pain after treatment. Treatment can be adjusted according to an individual’s preferences, and is very specific as to not disrupt healthy tissues. Common side effects include local discomfort, and redness at the treatment site.
Ice is recommended after treatment to help minimize post-treatment soreness and redness, which can be a benign side effect. Patients are encouraged to exercise and stretch the target areas through their home rehabilitation program as well.