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What is Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilisation (IASTM)?



Have you ever heard of Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilisation, or IASTM for short? Maybe you’ve come across terms like “scraping massage”, “Gua Sha”, "adhesion massage" or “friction massage” and wondered what they mean. Well you're not alone as many people have never heard of this powerful techniuqe let alone had it. I wonder if it is the uncatchy name IASTM that has never caught on or that not many practitioners do it especially here in Sydney. If you are wondering what IASTM is then you’re in the right place! Let's dive into the world of IASTM and explore how it can benefit your body.


How Does IASTM Work?

IASTM works by applying controlled microtrauma to the soft tissues using the purpose-shaped stainless steel tools. This microtrauma then stimulates the body's own healing mechanism, triggering blood flow and nutrients to the area to speed up or restart the healing process. Hold on, hold on! I know what you're thinking, this sounds intense, right! But it's actually a safe and effective way to stimulate the body’s healing processes. It can be uncomfortable in some areas and actually quite pleasurable in others.


What does it do?

The technique involves using the tools to apply pressure and friction to the skin and underlying structures such as the fascia, muscles, and ligaments, which helps to break down scar tissue and adhesions (areas where tissues stick together abnormally, especially after surgery or soft tissue injury like a muscle or ligament sprain or tear). The friction also generates heat and movement which can help to lubricate and mobilize the fascia.


The Benefits of IASTM


1. Improved Mobility: One of the primary benefits of IASTM is improved mobility. By breaking down scar tissue and adhesions, IASTM helps to restore normal movement patterns in muscles and joints.


2. Pain Relief: Many people seek IASTM for pain relief. The technique can reduce pain by decreasing inflammation and improving blood flow to the affected area.


3. Enhanced Recovery: Athletes and active individuals often use IASTM to speed up recovery from injuries. The increased blood flow and reduced scar tissue help muscles and tendons heal faster.


4. Better Performance: Improved mobility and reduced pain can lead to better athletic performance. Many athletes use IASTM as part of their regular maintenance routine to stay in top shape.



What is the Difference between IASTM and Gua Sha?

A modern approach to a traditional treatment.


This question may divide practitioners and clients alike. New meets old, ancient wisdome meets modern science and thinking.

The big difference besides the types of tools they use is the philosophy and application.

IASTM: rooted in western medicine and science. Uses metal tools with cream or oil to make smaller and precise frictions on the soft tissues. Also doesn't usually cause as much bruising as Gua Sha.The aims of IASTM are to release tension and adhesions in the muscle and connective tissues as well as getting more blood flow into them.

Gua Sha: based in ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Uses stone, buffalo horn or other materials to perform long strokes along meridian lines causing more bruising than IASTM. The brusing is seen as releasing the stagnant energy. Gua Sha focuses on promoting overall health by improving circulation, releasing excess heat, and aiding the body's natural healing processes.


Yes, this is the same as scraping. Few people will actually call it IASTM. Most people will say scraping.

It refers to the scraping motion used during the treatment. This technique can be traced back to ancient practices, such as Gua Sha, a traditional Chinese medicine technique. There are many otehr scraping techniques from around the world.


"Gua Sha" , literally means "scraping bruises" is an ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine Technique that is similar to IASTM as it involves scraping the skin with a smooth-edged tool to improve circulation and release muscle tension. Modern scraping massage borrows from this tradition but incorporates it into a more clinical setting with specialized tools and techniques based on modern anatomy and physiology.


Types of IASTM tools

   


Above you can see the types of tools we can use in IASTM. Some are thin and sharp, and some are big, like the crowbar, which is great for getting into someone's quads, ITB, or hamstrings. The smaller ones are great on the forearm or neck and also in those little nooks and crannies.


Types of Gua Sha tools



What to Expect During an IASTM Session

If you’re considering IASTM, you might be wondering what to expect during a session. Here’s a quick rundown:

1. Assessment: The therapist will start by assessing your condition, discussing your symptoms, and identifying the areas that need treatment.

2. Preparation: The area to be treated is typically warmed up, either with heat packs or light exercise, to prepare the tissues.

3. Treatment: The therapist will then use the IASTM tools to apply pressure and friction to the soft tissue. You might feel some discomfort or mild pain, but it should not be unbearable.

4. Post-Treatment: After the session, the therapist might apply ice to reduce any swelling and advise you on stretches and exercises to maintain the benefits of the treatment.

This is what your back may look like if the practitioner doesn't like you very much, and if they do, your whole back. We often only do one area like the forearm or between the shoulder blades.



Gua Sha in Sydney
Marks left on the back from Gua Sha

This is more like what your back will look like after a session of IASTM at Muscle Therapy Australia.


What are the marks like left from IASTM
Marks left from IASTM. Generally not as intense as Gua Sha


Is IASTM Right for You?


IASTM can be beneficial for a wide range of conditions, including:


  • Muscle Strains: Helping to reduce pain and speed up recovery.

  • Tendonitis: Breaking down scar tissue and improving blood flow. This is effective for Achilles Tendonitis, Medial and Lateral Epicondylitis (Golfers and Tennis Elbow).

  • Chronic Pain: Providing relief by addressing underlying tissue issues.

  • Post-Surgery Scarring: Assisting in the breakdown of scar tissue and improving mobility.

  • Fascial conditions: Injuries to the fascia (connective tissue) such as Plantar Fasciitis and Fascial adhesions.



However, it’s important to consult with a relevant healthcare professional to determine if IASTM is suitable for your specific condition.


Contraindications

There are some circumstances where doing a friction-based massage that causes bruising is not recommended and may cause harm or damage.

These are:

  • Skin conditions such as eczema or acne where if you perform frictions over the tissue it may cause bleeding and irritate the area even more.

  • People on blood thinners should avoid Gua Sha and Cupping, Deep Tissue Massage, and Dry Needling for that matter. Blood thinners do just that. They thin your blood by preventing it from clotting. The risk is that you may cause more than usual bruising or even internal bleeding.

  • Haemophilia

  • Preexisting bruising or damaged skin

  • Open wound

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)



Conclusion

Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) is a powerful technique that leverages specialized tools to improve mobility, reduce pain, and enhance recovery. Whether you call it scraping massage, Gua Sha, friction massage, or adhesion massage, the underlying principle remains the same: using controlled microtrauma to stimulate healing and restore function.


If you’re struggling with pain, restricted movement, or recovering from an injury, IASTM might be worth considering. Always consult with a qualified therapist to ensure you receive the best possible care tailored to your needs.


Keywords to look up when searching for IASTM


  • IASTM Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization

  • Scraping Massage

  • Gua Sha

  • Friction Massage

  • Adhesion Massage

  • Graston Technique


By incorporating these techniques into your health and wellness routine, you can experience the benefits of improved mobility, reduced pain, and faster recovery. So why not give IASTM a try and see how it can help you get back to feeling your best? All of our practitioners at Muscle Therapy Australia do some form of IASTM, whether it's with the stainless steel tools, the Gua Sha scraping tools, or even traditional Buffalo Horns, which are surprisingly effective for treatment and one of the most comfortable tools to use as a practitioner.



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