What Is IASTM?

IASTM, or instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization, is a rather common component of injury recovery. Some people have described it as a Western version of the Chinese medicine practice gua sha. Although gua sha treats energy along the meridian, IASTM treats musculoskeletal conditions. Here’s more about this scraping technique that can often lead to pain relief and increased mobility.


The idea behind IASTM is that your trained practitioner applies a forceful massage to your muscle with a scraping tool. This pressure, which causes a microtrauma, can break up fascial adhesions and scar tissue.  According to physio-pedia.com,

“The introduction of controlled microtrauma to affected soft tissue structure causes the stimulation of a local inflammatory response. Microtrauma initiates reabsorption of inappropriate fibrosis or excessive scar tissue and facilitates a cascade of healing activities resulting in remodeling of affected soft tissue structures. Adhesions within the soft tissue which may have developed as a result of surgery, immobilization, repeated strain or other mechanisms, are broken down allowing full functional restoration to occur.”

So, the pressure from the scraping tool triggers activity inside your body. Automatically, additional blood is circulated to the area and works to clean out any unnecessary adhesions. Because of this externally triggering of your body’s clean-up crew, your body can complete the healing process by removing the protective mechanisms of scar tissue and fascial adhesions.

However, there is very little scientific research that substantiates these claims. Much like gua sha, there just isn’t very much scientific attention on this topic. So, although this may work, it isn’t scientifically proven as an effective treatment.

Reasons for Treatment

According to physio-pedia.com, treatment may benefit people with the following issues:

  • Limited motion
  • Pain during motion
  • Motor control issues
  • Muscle recruitment issues
  • Medial Epicondylitis, Lateral Epicondylitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Neck Pain
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Rotator Cuff Tendinitis
  • Patellar Tendinitis
  • Tibialis Posterior Tendinitis
  • Heel Pain /Achilles Tendinitis
  • DeQuervain’s Syndrome
  • Post-Surgical and Traumatic Scars
  • Myofascial Pain and Restrictions
  • Musculoskeletal Imbalances
  • Chronic Joint Swelling Associated with Sprains/Strains
  • Ligament Sprains
  • Muscle Strains
  • Non-Acute Bursitis
  • RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)
  • Back Pain
  • Trigger Finger
  • Hip Pain (Replacements)
  • IT Band Syndrome
  • Shin Splints
  • Chronic Ankle Sprains
  • Acute Ankle Sprains (Advanced Technique)
  • Scars (Surgical, Traumatic)

You should not receive treatment if you have:

  • an open wound, infection, or tumor;
  • an implant like a pacemaker, internal defibrillator, picc/pump lines; or
  • deep vein thrombosis.

Learn More

If you’re interested in learning how to practice this technique, I came across this website. This course can also count for continuing educations units for some professionals.

Because IASTM is so common, you might be able to find a local physical therapist who practices this technique. The best way to know for sure is to call around. Once you have a list of a couple people who practice this technique, you can ask around among your friends to see if anyone has any particular recommendations.

Have you tried IASTM before? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below. Feel free to mention any excellent practitioners.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.