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The Benefits of Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization

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“Can I Scrape you?”

  You might hear this phrase from your therapist at 3DPT during your visit, but before you become alarmed by what that means, let us explain. Instrumented assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) can be associated with ancient Eastern healing technique known as Gua Sha which means, “to scrape”1. Gua Sha therapy uses flat edged surfaces such as Jade or coins to create local ischemia or bruising on skin surfaces to release toxins2. Recently, IASTM has gained notice as an adjunctive manual therapy method that involves specialized tools made of metal, plastic or ceramic. It has become widely noticed in the sport and athletic settings for the use on tight and restricted muscles. IASTM You may have heard about the Graston Technique which is a unique set of tools that are used with specific techniques developed by Graston3. Currently, there are a variety of tools on the market for therapeutic use but they all are designed to achieve the same outcomes.

  Now, you may be thinking “Metal? Bruising? No thanks!” but before you dismiss this technique let’s look at some of the research that shows IASTM to have benefits for various injuries.

Benefits to IASTM

Tissue Healing and Repair
Tendons are what connect our muscles to our bones. IASTM Injury to tendons includes small tears or strains or simply irritation to tendons often referred to tendonitis or tendonosis from overuse or poor body mechanics. Research shows that the one of the best ways to repair tendons is by stimulating fibroblast creation. Fibroblasts are the cells that help create new collagen fibers to repair tissues. IASTM has been shown to increase the stiffness in tendons after injury and promote faster healing times. By creating micro-trauma to a tendon through IASTM we stimulate blood flow, nutrient flow and fibroblast synthesis which results in tendon repair.4

Injury to muscle can often cause formation of scar tissue which is very typical after a surgery. When muscles are put in shortened positions, such as when you wear a cast or sit in a position all day at work, the muscles can adaptively shorten or develop adhesions. Scar tissue forms when there is not proper time for tissue to heal. Oxygen is unable to get to the injury site and the body resolves this issue by plugging up the injury with scar tissue. Scar tissue can restrict our range of motion, create pain and disrupt normal muscle function so we become weaker. It can also decrease our proprioception which is our body’s awareness of where it is in space. This can result in poor balance and function5. Use of IASTM to break up adhesions and restore length to the muscle can help combat some of these issues.

Improved Function and Balance
Research has also shown promising effects of the use of IASTM in neurological symptoms. Case studies have seen improved electromyographical results in patients post stroke that have muscular imbalances such as hyperactivity or hypoactivity6. Injuries to nerves can cause a lack of response to our muscles or even an overactive response. Other research has seen improvements in ROM and functional tests which may aid in improvements in dynamic balance7. These studies indicate that IASTM may have a role in normalizing the response in your muscles which would improve gait and balance.
We currently use IASTM for a variety of injuries including:

- Plantar fasciitis
- Achilles tendonsis/calf tightness
- Sprains and Strains
- Nerve entrapment
- Tennis elbow
- Golfers elbow
- Neck pain/stiffness
- ITB Friction syndrome
- Scar mobility

  IASTM is currently being studied for other benefits in addition to the ones mentioned above. If you are interested in being “scraped”, our knowledgeable therapists at 3DPT are here to discuss and personalize your treatment options.

Jessica Jennings PT, DPT
3 Dimensional Physical Therapy

4. Hammer W, The effect of Mechanical Load on Degenerated Soft Tissue. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2008;12:246-256
6. Lee, Jeong et al, Inhibitory effects of instrument-assisted neuromobilization on hyperactive gastrocnemius in a hemiparetic stroke patient. Bio-medical Materials and Engineering 24 (2014):2389-2394
7. Schaefer, J; Sandrey, M. Effects of a 4-Week Dynamic Balance Training Program Supplemented with Graston Instrument-Assisted Soft-Tissue Mobilization for Chronic Ankle Instability. Journal Of Sport Rehabilitation; 2012, 21:313-326.

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"The team at 3DPT is made up of dedicated and caring Physical Therapists whose expertise and hands-on approach are what I seek for my patients. It is their fundamental philosophy that has made my professional experiences with them nothing short of exemplary."

     -      Dr. Kathryn Gollotto, DO - Orthopedic Reconstruction Specialists