By Kraig Bano, MPT, CHT director of hand therapy at ATI Physical Therapy. Bano is also a course instructor for HawkGrips, an international IASTM company based in Conshohocken. PA
With warm weather comes the excitement of returning to our favorite outdoor activities such as walking, running, biking, playing sports, or gardening. But getting back to pursuits that you love can be tough on your body following a period of inactivity that winter often fosters.
Injuries that stem from quickly increasing your activity level may start as simple aches and pains, but stiffness and weakness could become more involved if not appropriately addressed.
Fortunately, a technique called instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) has proven to be very effective in both enhancing mobility and alleviating injury, enabling pain-free participation in activities as quickly as possible. IASTM is proven to treat joint and ligament sprains, muscle and tendon strains, neck and back injuries, and tendinitis.
Trained clinicians — including physical and occupational therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and athletic trainers — can use IASTM to assist in detecting and treating soft tissue dysfunction. Specially designed tools commonly made from metal, plastic, stone, or even bone are used to identify and target areas of soft tissue dysfunction commonly known as fascial adhesions.
Fascia is a tissue found throughout the body that attaches, supports and separates muscles and organs. With injury, the healing response can cause scar tissue formation along the fascia, referred to as adhesions, which can limit range of motion (ROM), flexibility, and the ability of muscles to contract normally. These limitations lead to deficits that can prohibit participation in daily activities. Research has demonstrated the ability of IASTM to:
- Reduce pain thresholds
- Decrease muscle guarding
- Increase ROM
- Increase muscle function (as well as inhibit hypertonicity)
- Improve ligament healing
- Decrease scarring
- Decrease tendinitis symptoms
By utilizing a variety of treatment strokes, a trained clinician can decrease muscle and joint tenderness, with results evident during the first treatment session. Ideally, IASTM is coupled with other treatment techniques such as manual stretching and joint mobilization, along with a specific exercise prescription that addresses stretching to maintain flexibility and strengthening to improve stability and function. Typically, a series of treatments may be required to achieve full return to activities. IASTM will get you back out on the road, field, or in the garden faster than traditional methods alone.