Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM)



Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization or Simply IASTM is a new range of tool which enables clinicians to efficiently locate and treat individuals diagnosed with soft tissue dysfunction. The technique itself is said to be a modern evolution from Traditional Chinese Medicine called Gua Sha [1]. However Gua Sha was not used to treat Musculoskeletal conditions but was traditionally applied along meridiens to move the bad chi out through the skin. IASTM is a is a procedure that is rapidly growing in popularity due to its effectiveness and efficiency while remaining non-invasive, with its own indications and limitations.

IASTM is performed with ergonomically designed instruments that detect and treat fascial restrictions, encourage rapid localization and effectively treat areas exhibiting soft tissue fibrosis, chronic inflammation, or degeneration. As in any Manual therapy treatment, supplementation with exercises and additional modalities (e.g., joint mobilization designed to correct biomechanical deficiencies by addressing musculoskeletal strength and muscle imbalances throughout the entire kinetic chain) should be used in conjunction with IASTM.


How does it work?

Instruments effectively break down fascial restrictions and scar tissue. The ergonomic design of these instruments provides the clinician with the ability to locate restrictions and allows the clinician to treat the affected area with the appropriate amount of pressure. The introduction of controlled microtrauma to affected soft tissue structure causes the stimulation of a local inflammatory response. Microtrauma initiates reabsorption of inappropriate fibrosis or excessive scar tissue and facilitates a cascade of healing activities resulting in remodeling of affected soft tissue structures. Adhesions within the soft tissue which may have developed as a result of surgery, immobilization, repeated strain or other mechanisms, are broken down allowing full functional restoration to [2][3][4]



  • Limited Motion
  • Pain During Motion
  • Motor Control Issues
  • Muscle Recruitment Issues


Conditions for which IASTM is usually used:

  • Medial Epicondylitis, Lateral
  • Epicondylitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Neck Pain
  • Plantar Fascitis
  • Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
  • Patellar Tendinitis
  • Tibialis Posterior Tendinitis
  • Heel Pain /Achilles Tendinitis
  • DeQuervain’s Syndrome
  • Post-Surgical and Traumatic Scars
  • Myofascial Pain and Restrictions
  • Musculoskeletal Imbalances
  • Chronic Joint Swelling Associated with Sprains/Strains
  • Ligament Sprains
  • Muscle Strains
  • Non-Acute Bursitis
  • RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)
  • Back Pain
  • Trigger Finger
  • Hip Pain (Replacements)
  • IT Band Syndrome
  • Shin Splints
  • Chronic Ankle Sprains
  • Acute Ankle Sprains (Advanced Technique)
  • Scars (Surgical, Traumatic)


  • Compromised tissue integrity (open wound, infection, tumor)
  • Active implants (pacemaker, internal defibrillator, picc/pump lines)
  • DVT
  • Cervical carotid sinus

IASTM Physiology & Benefits

  • Cellular Level
    Studies have addressed the benefits of IASTM at the cellular level. Benefits include increased fibroblast proliferation, reduction in scar tissue, increased vascular response, and the remodeling of unorganized collagen fiber matrix following IASTM application.Fibroblast is considered the most important cell in the extracellular matrix (ECM). The repair, regeneration and maintenance of soft tissue take place in the ECM. The fibroblast synthesizes the ECM, which includes collagen, elastin and proteoglycans, among many other essential substances. Fibroblasts have the ability to react as mechanotranducers, which means they are able to detect biophysical strain (deformation) such as compression, torque, shear and fluid flow, and create a mechanochemical response.Gehlsen et al investigated the effects of 3 separate IASTM pressures on rat Achilles tendons. [5] They concluded that fibroblast production is directly proportional to the magnitude of IASTM pressure used by the clinician. Davidson et al supported Gehlsen et al. by concluding that IM significantly increased fibroblast production in rat achilles tendons by using electron microscopy to analyze tissue samples following IM application. [6]
    Davidson et al. found morphologic changes in the rough endoplasmic reticulum following IM application. Thus, indicating micro trauma to damaged tissues, resulting in an acute fibroblast respons. [7]
  • Clinical Benefits
    Studies have also showed clinical benefits of IASTM showing improvements in range of motion, strength and pain perception following treatment. Melham et al found that IASTM significantly improved range of motion in a college football player following 7 weeks of IASTM and physical therapy. [8] Melham et al. found that scar tissue surrounding the lateral malleolus was reduced and remodeled structurally following IASTM application. Wilson et al found improvement in pain reduction and impairment scale at 6 & 12 weeks following IASTM application for patellar tendonitis. [9]
  • Benefit to the Therapist
    IASTM provide clinicians with a mechanical advantage, thus preventing over-use to the hands. Snodgrass SJ surveyed physical therapists and found that after spinal pain, the second most common cause for absenteeism from work was overuse of the thumb. Ninety-one percent of physiotherapists using some sort of massage had to modify their treatment techniques because of thumb pain. [10]

Types of Tools

There is a variety of tools to perform IASTM.

  • Buffalo Horn – These tools are used by Chinese Gua Sha practitioner but can be used for IASTM too. However it does not resonate well. Quite
    cheap to obtain.
  • Jade Tools – Much heavier and more slippery than the Buffalo Horn. Can break easily if dropped.
  • Plastic Tools – New in the market. Lots of design suited for Manual Therapy work. Largely used for training before upgrading to the next class of tools.
  • Stainless Steel Tools – Best tools for IASTM. A must have tool for Physiotherapist. The tissue resonates well when the steel runs on it. Comes in
    different sizes for different parts of the body depending on the company producing it.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gua_sha
  2. Fowler, S, Wilson, J, and Sevier, TL, Innovative approach for the treatment of cumulative trauma disorders, Work. 2000; 15:9-14
  3. Sevier, TL, Helfst, RH, Stover, SA, and Wilson, JK. Clinical trends on tendinitis.Work. 2000; 14:123-226
  4. Sevier, TL, Gehlsen, JK, Wilson, JK,Stover SA, and Helfst RH. Traditional physical therapy versus augmented soft tissue mobilization (ASTM) in the treatment of lateral epicondylitis. Med Sci Sports Exerc . 1995; 27:S52
  5. Gehlsen, GM, Ganion, LR, and Helfst, RH, Fibroblast responses to variation in soft tissue mobilization pressure, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999; 31:531-535.
  6. Davidson, CL, Ganion, LR, Gehlsen, GM, Verhoestra, B, Roepke, JE, and Sevier TL, Rat tendon morphologic and functional changes resulting from soft tissue mobilization.Med Sci Sports Exerc.1997; 29:313-319.
  7. Davidson, CL, Ganion, LR, Gehlsen, GM, Verhoestra, B, Roepke, JE, and Sevier TL, Rat tendon morphologic and functional changes resulting from soft tissue mobilization. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1997; 29:313-319.
  8. Melham, TJ, Sevier, TL, Malnofski,MJ, Wilson, JK, and Helfst, RH, Chronic ankle pain and fibrosis successfully treated with a new non-invasive augmented soft tissue mobilization (ASTM): A case report.Med Sci Sports Exerc.1997;30:801-804
  9. Wilson, J., Sevier, T., Helfst, R., Honing, E., & Thomann, A. (2000). Comparison of rehabilitation methods in the treatment of patellar tendinitis. J Sports Rehabil, 9(4), 304-314.
  10. Snodgrass SJ. Thumb pain in physiotherapists: potential risk factors and proposed prevention strategies. J of Manual and Manipulative Therapy 2002;10(4):206-217.
  11. www.physio-pedia.com/Instrument_Assisted_Soft_Tissue_Mobilization

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