The Truth About IASTM

September 20, 2022

Let’s first take a look at what IASTM is. IASTM or Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization/Massage was developed off of the principles that Dr. James Cyriax created with cross friction massage but the technique was said to have evolved from Gua sha (Chinese Medicine).  Dr. James Cyriax was also known as the father of orthopedic medicine and has much influence in the fields of sports medicine and physical therapy.  

When we think about effective treatments in physical therapy, we used to think of electrical stim, hot packs, and ultrasound.  Many of these treatments have gone by the way side due to a lack of research supporting the effectiveness of those treatments.  One, however, continues to prove that it may be worth something. Today, we utilize this treatment to improve blood flow to the treatment area, decrease pain caused by tendinitis, reduce muscle stiffness, and break up scar tissue built up beneath the surface of the skin.  More and more research has been done on the effectiveness of IASTM with systematic reviews and randomized control trials looking for decreases in pain and improved overall function.

When we analyze the data, however, we see conflicting evidence of its effectiveness.  In some articles we see significant improvement, in others not so much. As a collective however, we notice an emerging trend that even though by definition we can’t specifically say that the tool is doing what we say it is (breaking up scar tissue, etc...) we see a decrease in overall pain levels, improved range of motion, and improved tolerance to activities.  

In a review by Scott W. Cheatham (The Effectiveness of IASTM) we see the results that provide some evidence to utilizing it in treatment for a variety of diagnoses. They also state the conclusion “The literature measuring the effects of IASTM is still emerging”.  Although research is still needed to figure out its true effectiveness, anecdotal statements from other physical therapists indicate it is used quite frequently in treatment.  If you need more information on how IASTM works, check out our YouTube channel or schedule an appointment with us today so we can help educate you more!