Instrumented Soft Tissue Mobilization (ISTM) or Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) is a manual therapy protocol that utilizes specially designed stainless-steel instruments to assist in detecting and treating areas exhibiting scar tissue, soft tissue restriction, adhesions, or chronic inflammation. These instruments, which can detect soft tissue restrictions altering the musculo-skeletal system, will decrease pain, increase range of motion, and enhance athletic performance.
The technique itself is said to be a modern evolution from Traditional Chinese Medicine called Gua Sha, which was traditionally applied along meridiens to move the bad chi out through the skin. Ox horn, jade, rock, and metal of various shapes and sizes were utilized as tools. The Greeks and Romans also used blade shaped tools in in the treatment of their athletes and gladiators.
In modern therapy, ISTM can detect and effectively break down fascial restrictions and scar tissue, encourage rapid localization, and effectively treat areas exhibiting soft tissue fibrosis, chronic inflammation, or degeneration.
The ergonomic design of these instruments provides the therapist with the ability to locate restrictions and allows them to treat the affected area with the appropriate amount of pressure. ISTM provides therapists with a mechanical advantage, thus preventing over-use to the hands.
As with any therapy program, ISTM is used as part of a multi-level approach to treatment. Supplementing this therapy with specific exercises and additional modalities such as joint mobilization designed to correct bio-mechanical deficiencies can improve the outcome for the patient. Clinical benefits of ISTM are improvements in range of motion, strength and pain perception following treatment.