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The buzz of IASTM in rehabilitative healthcare

January 2015
By Paul Smith, PT, ATC, LAT Director of Physical Therapy, Apollo Hospital Systems

An efficient and effective technique for identifying and treating soft tissue dysfunction is gaining popularity among patients and practitioners alike, for one simple reason- it works.

Often patients seeking physical therapy are unaware of what the exact issue is causing their pain. As an overview, human muscles are surrounded by a thin membrane of connective tissue named fascia, which allows muscles to slide upon each other during normal movement. If a muscle becomes impacted or overused, microfibers form in between adjacent layers of connective tissue, binding them together and allowing the muscles to heal − nature's internal cast.

Unfortunately, these microfiber adhesions do not dissipate following healing, and can accumulate over time, causing stiff and tense muscles. This leads to a change in the tissue which alters its capacity to contract normally, resulting in compensatory adaptations and dysfunction.

In order to improve muscle function, Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) can be used on the patient. IASTM involves the use of specialized tools, which allow clinicians to efficiently locate and treat soft tissue dysfunction; a common condition among the athletic and general population alike.

The Graston Technique of IASTM is performed with ergonomically designed stainless steel instruments that are used to detect and treat fascial restrictions. In addition these tools encourage rapid localization, and effectively treat areas exhibiting soft tissue fibrosis, chronic inflammation or degeneration. The specially designed tools used in IASTM provide superior results to traditional manual manipulation via hand, elbow or knuckle to relive pain.

In comparison to human hands, the uniquely concave and convex surfaces together with the beveled edges of the tools is the key to Graston Technique’s success. When the tools are scanned over the patient’s area of pain, the underlying tissue dysfunction can be detected via reverberations, similar to how a stethoscope transmits sounds of the heart and lungs more effectively than placing an ear or hand to the patient's chest. The reverberations felt when examining tissues and surrounding fascial planes can be described as ‘grisly’, ‘gritty’ or ‘bumpy’, with each require different methods of treatment.

The tools are used again when treating the patient, by applying directional pressure stroking, at varying intensity levels, performed in multiple planes. Clinicians also use differing methods such as pressure vibrations, J-strokes and fanning in order to treat all fascial planes. These various methods encourage the reduction or removal of myofascial adhesions that commonly present after injury, surgical intervention, macro-tears of muscle tissue, or prolonged immobility around joints or other tissues, causing pain.

IASTM is beneficial for a wide range of painful and debilitating disorders including but not limited to cervical sprain/strain, lumber sprain/strain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, plantar fasciitis, lateral and medial epicondylities, rotator cuff tendinitis, patella femoral disorders, achilles tendinitis, scar tissue, shin splints and other soft tissue dysfunctions.

The benefits of IASTM are decreased overall length of treatments, faster rehabilitation/recovery, reduced need for anti-inflammatory medication, resolution of chronic conditions previously regarded as permanent, and the simple fact that patients can continue to engage in everyday activities during treatment, due to the non-invasive nature of the treatment.

Using IASTM, clinicians can immediately increase range of motion, decrease acute and sub-acute pain and reduce metabolites associated with muscle tissue breakdown. All these results have been demonstrated in studies on IASTM - and in particular the Graston Technique, which has proven to be superior to other methods.

From a personal perspective, I now regard IASTM as vital for the well-being of my patients. Having worked as a physical therapist and athletic trainer for over ten years, I have hands- on experience dealing with a wide range of soft tissue dysfunction, and am always interested in researching new ways to help relieve pain for my patients. I became familiar with and began using the Graston Technique clinically five years ago, and I now use it almost daily. In addition to it being a safe and reliable technique, the Graston Technique is an effective and efficient way to treat a variety of ailments including chronic pain and tendinopathies, manage edema and achieve immediate results from a single treatment session.

IASTM is effective, time efficient and affordable. The Graston Technique has become standard protocol in many universities and outpatient facilities as well as in professional sports medicine, using specialized tools to identify and treat soft tissue dysfunction.

While not yet well known to the public, IASTM is becoming increasingly popular in the healthcare industry, as it is effective at treating and providing relief to patients with pain and range of motion problems.

If your patients are experiencing soft tissue pain which remains unresolved over time, I encourage you to recommend IASTM, so they too can experience the many benefits of The Graston Technique.