What is IASTM?
September 13, 2023
What is IASTM?
September 13, 2023
IASTM, also known as instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, is a technique that uses specially designed tools to provide a soft-tissue massage. According to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, “the use of the instrument is thought to provide a mechanical advantage for the clinician by allowing deeper tissue penetration, vibration feedback sense, and more specific treatment, while also reducing imposed stress on the hands.”
“Many techniques done by hand can be adopted and done by safely integrating instruments,” says Dr. Nikita Vizniak, DC, RMT, ERYT. “IASTM allows for far deeper and more specific contacts and tissue engagement while, when done correctly, reducing therapist effort and saving their own body.”
“IASTM differs from traditional Swedish massage techniques in that it allows the LMT to provide benefits to their clients that would not be possible without the use of an IASTM tool,” says Jessica Music, LMT.
IASTM TOOLS: THE BASICS
There are numerous IASTM tools to choose from, including Graston, RockTape, HawkGrips, HyperBlade, and FASCIQ, to name a few. These tools come in different shapes and are made from different materials depending on how they’ll be used.
According to Vizniak, stainless steel is the best option (for its hygienic quality and durability, as well as its thermal properties and kinesthetic feedback during assessment and treatment), but wood, plastic, stone, and bone are also popular options.
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“It is crucially important to properly sanitize a tool between patients,” Music says. “Because of this, I personally only purchase stainless steel tools.”
To get the best and broadest options for working different areas of the body and for the varying needs of your clients, massage therapists we spoke to suggested looking for tools with more organic shapes and varied beveled edges included. A single bevel gives better penetration but, generally, can only be used in one direction. Double bevels give less penetration but can be used in both directions. The more edges and variability a tool offers, the more useful a single tool can be.
“Choosing the appropriate shapes, edges, and weights for the work being performed may take practice and experience,” says Vivian Padilla, Owner, Eirene Massage & Bodyworks.
Because IASTM is essentially a standard massage that uses tools instead of the practitioner’s hands, the benefits resemble those of traditional massage. “Those experiencing chronic or acute pain, or recovering from surgery, may benefit from IASTM,” Padilla says. “It is commonly used to treat sports injuries and conditions such as tennis and golfer’s elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, neck pain, back pain, hip pain, and surgical and traumatic scars.”
Some benefits include:
• Decreased pain and stiffness
• Decreased recovery time
• Reduced inflammation
• Improved circulation
• Stimulation of the lymphatic system
IASTM may provide these benefits more quickly because of the increased dose response. “IASTM benefits are effectively the same as regular massage techniques, they just tend to happen way faster due to the increased dose response,” says Vizniak. “This can lead to fast treatment times, potentially allowing therapists to treat more people (increased income) or take more breaks/finish shifts sooner (increased quality of life).”
Additionally, IASTM can benefit the massage therapist because the use of tools helps to save wear and tear on their hands. “A major benefit for the therapist is decreased hand fatigue, especially if the tool is ergonomically designed,” says Padilla.
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IASTM SIDE EFFECTS AND CONTRAINDICATIONS
When done correctly, IASTM side effects are minor and include mild soreness and bruising, mild tenderness, and redness around the affected area.
According to Padilla, IASTM would be contraindicated when the following conditions are present (though this list is not meant to be exhaustive):
• Cervical carotid sinus
• Active implants such as a pacemaker or internal defibrillator
• Blood thinning medication
• Client intolerance or hypersensitivity
• Client is unable to communicate
Something else to keep in mind—especially with clients trying IASTM for the first time—is that light pressure should be used. “As a therapist, it can feel like you are doing next to nothing, but the client may be receiving a near maximum tolerable amount of pressure,” Vizniak says.
As Music summarizes, “IASTM has allowed me to improve my clients’ quality of life in ways I never could have imagined. I love being able to see the progress my clients make and it makes me excited to learn more modalities in the future that will improve my treatments.”