In February 2014, the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy published a study titled “Acute Effects of Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization for Improving Posterior Range of Motion in Collegiate Baseball Players,” that looked at whether or not instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) improves shoulder range of motion issues that baseball players commonly suffer.
The authors, Kevin Laudner, Bryce Compton, Todd McLoda, and Chris Walters, theorized that IASTM would increase participants’ range of motion. They looked specifically at passive glenohumeral (GH) horizontal adduction and internal rotation range of motion (ROM). The study concluded that the IASTM did improve ROM for the players who received it.
Many baseball players have a limited range of shoulder motion due to the strain on muscles, tendons, and ligaments (soft tissues) that repeatedly throwing a ball causes. The researchers placed 35 collegiate baseball players, who showed no symptoms, randomly in one of two groups for the study. One group, the experimental group, received IASTM treatments, while the second group, the control group, did not. In order to be eligible to participate, the subjects had to be members of a NCAA Division I collegiate baseball team and have had no recent (within the last six months) history of upper extremity injury or any past surgery to the upper extremities.
Both groups underwent pretest measurements to determine their GH ROM. One group of 17 participants received IASTM treatments and the second group of 18 participants did not. Post-test measurements were then taken. A digital inclinometer was used to take the measurements, and the Graston Technique was used to administer the IASTM to the experimental group.
The exact method for taking measurements and administering treatments is described by the authors: “Passive GH horizontal adduction and internal rotation ROM of the dominant arm were measured with the participant’s shirt on and in a pretest post-test fashion.
Once the pretest measurements were obtained, the experimental group participants immediately removed their shirts and rolled over into a prone position, during which time the two investigators who measured the GH passive ROM left the room. At this time a third investigator applied the IASTM. At the conclusion of the treatment, the participants
immediately rolled back over to the original supine position and put their shirt back on to hide any erythema that may have been caused by the IASTM treatment.
The investigators who measured the pretest passive GH ROM then re?entered the room and re?measured the participants’ GH horizontal adduction ROM and internal rotation ROM. The procedures and passive ROM measurements in the control group were taken using identical methods as those in the experimental group, but this group did not receive any intervention.
However, the control group did lie in a prone position for the same amount of time that the experimental group did during their intervention. The total time between pre-test and post-test measurements for both groups was approximately 90 seconds.”
The researchers concluded that IASTM does, indeed, bring about “acute increase” in GH ROM. They suggest that future studies using a variety of tools and techniques are warranted, but that IASTM is an effective treatment for improving GH ROM.