Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM): What is it and how does it work?

Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM): What is it and how does it work? - The Bond Wand

Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) is a manual therapy technique that uses specially designed instruments to treat soft tissue disorders through controlled microtrauma. IASTM is a relatively new technique, but it has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is called Gua Sha, and was originally part of the acupuncture of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). 

Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of IASTM in helping increase range of motion, pain resolution, and a return to normal function of the treated area. In this blog post, we will explore what IASTM is, how it works, and its benefits.

How does IASTM work?

IASTM is thought to work in a number of ways. First, the pressure applied by the IASTM instruments, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes, are used to apply different types of pressure to the soft tissues, which help to break down scar tissue and adhesions in the soft tissues. These are called microtraumas.

Second, IASTM can help to increase blood flow to the treated area, which helps to promote healing and reduce inflammation. Third, IASTM can help to stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers.

Research is still ongoing to fully understand the long-term effects of IASTM, but some studies have shown that it can be an effective treatment for a variety of soft tissue and musculoskeletal disorders, including:

  • Muscle pain
  • Tendinitis
  • Bursitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Scar tissue
  • Sports injuries

What are the benefits of IASTM?

IASTM has been shown to offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Reduced pain
  • Improved range of motion
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Accelerated healing
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved scar tissue appearance

How is IASTM performed?

IASTM is typically performed in a physical therapy clinic or other healthcare setting. It is important to work with a qualified therapist who has been trained in the IASTM technique.

Typically, the patient will lie down on a treatment table and the therapist will expose the affected area. The therapist will then apply lubricant to the skin and begin to use the IASTM instruments, using a variety of strokes and techniques to apply pressure to the soft tissues and break up scar tissue and adhesions. The treatment will typically last for 15-30 minutes.

What are the side effects of IASTM?

IASTM is a safe and effective treatment for most people. However, there are a few potential side effects, including:

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Skin irritation

These side effects are typically mild and temporary. If you experience any severe side effects, be sure to tell your therapist or seek medical help.

Comparison of IASTM and Gua Sha

IASTM and gua sha are both manual therapy techniques that use instruments to treat soft tissue disorders. However, there are some key differences between the two techniques.

  • Instruments: IASTM instruments are typically made of stainless steel or other durable materials and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Gua sha tools are typically made of jade, bone, or other natural materials and are more rounded in shape.
  • Technique: IASTM is performed using a variety of strokes and techniques, including cross-fiber friction, longitudinal friction, and compression. Gua sha is typically performed using a single stroke, which is repeated over the affected area.
  • Benefits: IASTM and gua sha have been shown to offer similar benefits, including reduced pain, improved range of motion, and accelerated healing. However, IASTM may be more effective for treating chronic pain and scar tissue.

A promising treatment for a variety of soft tissue disorders, IASTM is a safe and effective treatment for most people and can help reduce pain, improve range of motion, and accelerate healing. If you are struggling with a soft tissue disorder, we encourage you to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about whether IASTM is right for you. To learn how to practice IASTM with The Bond Wand, visit our resources at