How ISTM Instruments Can Improve Physical Therapy

As professionals, physical therapists have numerous Instruments at their disposal to help their patients. From exercise balls and bands to treadmills and a variety of specific exercises, physical therapists make use of strategies that have been around for a long time, as well as those that are more modern. Integrating Instrumented Soft Tissue Mobilization (ISTM) to a patient’s typical physical therapy treatment adds a great deal to each session.

What are ISTM Instruments?

Before a physical therapist can fully appreciate ISTM instruments and their benefits, it helps to know what they are. Deriving from a traditional Chinese medicinal technique known as Gua Sha, ISTM instruments are a modern evolution of this form.

The instruments designed by Tecnica Gavilan have a well-defined treatment edge surrounding the entire perimeter. This design requires less treatment pressure and virtually eliminates bruising. Each curve is customized with a double beveled treatment edge for comfort and enhances the asymmetry of each instrument. This allows the Gavilán instruments the ability to fit the greatest number of body areas for treatment.

Ala | Shaped in the likeness of a wing , Ala is used to evaluate and treat larger areas of the body. It comprises of double treatment edges to facilitate comfortable treatment applications.

Pico | Featuring a beak-like shape, Pico  features multiple diameters that make it ideal for treating both the hands and the feet. Specific applications such as tendon pulleys and incisions are just a couple of the areas that can benefit from it double edged perimeter.

Garra | Recognizable by its talon shape , Garra is comprised of numerous diameters that make it ideal for treating the soft tissues that surround joints as well as the bony landmarks of the body.

How Do ISTM Instruments Work?

Though the shapes of the Ala, Pico and Garra instruments help a physical therapist visualize underlying issues by how they glide over a patient’s skin to evaluate and treat various conditions, this does not tell the full story of their workings. These instruments are effective at breaking down the scar tissue and fascial restrictions that develop following trauma to the area. The instruments facilitate the evaluation of these areas and provide a physical therapist with the means to apply an adequate amount of pressure to the region in question. The result is a breakdown of fibrous tissue, adhesions or scar tissue that previously marred the recovery and progress of the patient so that restoration and fully functionality can occur.

Cases in Which ISTM Instruments Can be Helpful

Just as other physical therapy instruments don’t work for every indication, so is the case with ISTM instruments. For patients who present with limited motion or with pain during motion, ISTM instruments are a good strategy. Muscle recruitment issues, as well as motor control issues also benefit greatly from a physical therapy strategy that includes the use of ISTM instruments. A few of the conditions that physical therapists can effectively treat include:

  • traumatic scars
  • ligament sprains
  • heel pain
  • shin splints
  • trigger finger
  • muscle strains
  • back pain

ISTM instruments not only benefit patients, they also offer valuable advantages for practitioners as well. For the physical therapist, using ISTM instruments provides them with a mechanical advantage that can help prevent the overuse of their hands during massage. The overuse of the thumb during patient massage, for example, is one of the most common reasons for absenteeism, a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found.