Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) is a popular method of treating soft tissue dysfunctions and injuries. This intervention is commonly known by the brand of the technique and tool, such as Graston® technique or Astym® therapy. Both techniques are evidence-based and offered in Altru’s Outpatient Therapy and Regional Therapy departments.
These techniques are used in conjunction with other treatments, such as strengthening, stretching or other practices. IASTM has been shown to be very beneficial in treating soft tissue, improving pain, increasing motion and returning patients to previous function quickly.
How IASTM Works
Astym and Graston use specific tools or instruments and strategies to address conditions that affect soft tissue. Both therapies can generally be described as the application of pressure to improve blood flow and tissue elasticity, as well as decrease pain in scar tissue and particular areas on the body.
Who Needs IASTM Therapy?
IASTM treatment may help patients with a variety of conditions or injuries, including:
- Achilles tendinitis. This condition occurs when the Achilles tendon—a band of tissue that connects the calf muscles to the heel—becomes inflamed due to overuse or degeneration.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. This occurs when the median nerve—a nerve in your arm that runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand—becomes compressed, often resulting in tingling and hand weakness.
- Chronic ankle sprains. When an ankle sprain is left untreated, it may develop into chronic ankle instability. A chronic ankle sprain causes consistent pain and weakness in the joint.
- Chronic tendinopathies (most forms). A chronic tendinopathy is a painful ongoing condition that results from overuse of a tendon.
- De Quervain’s tenosynovitis. This condition occurs when the two tendons near the base of your thumb become swollen, putting excess pressure on nearby nerves and resulting in pain and numbness.
- Hamstring strains. This occurs when one or more of the muscles in the back of your leg, also known as the hamstring, is stretched and torn. Some hamstring strains are mild and resolve on their own, while others can be severe and require medical intervention.
- IT (Iliotibial) band syndrome. The iliotibial band is a tendon that runs from the top of the pelvic bone to just below the knee. IT band syndrome occurs when this tendon becomes irritated from rubbing against the bone outside of your hip or knee.
- Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow). Tennis elbow occurs from overuse of the elbow, resulting in inflamed tendons and pain outside of the joint.
- Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow). This condition occurs from continuous repetitive movements that cause soreness and pain on the inside of the arm near the elbow.
- Patellar tendinitis (jumper’s knee). This is an overuse injury of the knee that usually occurs in athletes. It occurs when small tears are made in the patellar tendon. Therapy may resolve pain and get you back to the sport.
- Plantar fasciitis. This condition is a common cause of heel pain. It occurs when the plantar fascia—a thick tissue at the bottom of the foot—becomes swollen or inflamed. Many patients benefit from IASTM therapy for plantar fasciitis.
- Postsurgical fibrosis. Fibrosis is the thickening, stiffening or scarring of the body’s tissues. When excessive scar tissue results from surgery, it is known as postsurgical fibrosis.
- Postsurgical scarring. During surgery, your surgeon makes an incision on an area of the body. This often leaves a scar that may need intervention to promote healing.
- Shin splints. Inflammation of the tissue, tendons and muscles around the shinbone is known as shin splints. Runners, dancers and other athletes tend to get shin splints.
- Shoulder pain. Whether caused by a preexisting condition or injury, shoulder soreness or discomfort can severely limit range of motion.
- Sacroiliac (SI) and lower back pain. Soreness or discomfort in your back or upper buttocks can be acute, lasting a few days, or chronic, continuing 12 weeks or more.
- Soft tissue changes associated with degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). Degenerative joint disease causes the cartilage in the joint to break down, compromising the structure of the joint. IASTM can help with treating soft tissue changes, muscles and soreness caused by poor dysfunctional joint mobility.
- Trigger finger. This condition causes pain or stiffness when you bend or straighten a finger. Trigger finger mostly affects the ring finger and thumb.
- Trochanteric bursitis (hip pain). Hip pain involves any discomfort or pain around the hip joint. The pain may arise from injury, infection or a condition such as arthritis.
- Wrist sprains. This injury occurs when the ligaments in the wrist stretch or tear. A wrist sprain could result from bending or twisting the wrist in a forceful motion.
What to Expect for Home Programming
Most therapy episodes require the patient to do a level of home programming independently to make progress and/or maintain gains made in therapy sessions. IASTM treatment is similar, and your therapist will incorporate the proper exercises, positioning and/or activity guidelines appropriate for your level of recovery.
To schedule an appointment with a certified therapist who specializes in Astym therapy or Graston technique at Altru, call 701.780.2300.