IASTM involves brushing or rubbing against the grain of the affected tissue to increase circulation and promote healing
As the old saying goes, “variety is the spice of life.” The same can be said of trends within chiropractic care.
Many DCs started out in practice only offering chiropractic care – specifically joint manipulations. Over time, DCs began to see the value of adding in other services, such as TENS, nutritional support, and heat therapy. Each of these services allows the DC to expand both their scope of practice and potentially their patient roster.
One of the more popular therapeutic techniques that DCs are adding into their existing practices is Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization or IASTM.
Why IASTM works for chiropractors
IASTM is thought to have its roots in ancient Chinese medicine, in the form of gua sha.1 This therapy used common items, such as spoons, coins, or pieces of bamboo to scrape across the affected soft tissue. This was meant to create sha (petechiae), which helped overcome blood stagnation by improving circulation.
Today, IASTM utilizes instruments that have various curves and are used to find areas of scar tissue and break them up. This is done by brushing or rubbing against the grain of the affected tissue to increase circulation and promote healing. In some cases, this treatment will also be applied to other areas of the body that are connected to the affected area by fascial tissue. For example, a patient with low-back pain might also get treated along the hips, buttocks, or hamstrings.
There is a large body of research confirming that chronic low-back pain is the number one reason patients seek out chiropractic care, and IASTM focuses on the therapy as it aids chiropractic care. A 2016 article in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science examined the effects of IASTM and exercise on pain and lumbar range of motion in a group of patients with chronic low back pain.2
Thirty patients were divided into two groups of 15 (IASTM + exercise, and exercise only). At the end of the four-week study, both pain and lumbar range of motion did significantly improve for both groups. However, those patients who also underwent IASTM showed greater improvement on both interventions.2
A 2017 study in the same journal focused on hamstring pain and extensibility in patients with low-back pain.3 For this study, 12 patients underwent IASTM on their hamstring muscles, while another 12 were given static exercises to perform. Similar to the earlier study, both groups showed improved hamstring extension and reduced pain at the end of the intervention. However, patients in the IASTM group were able to stretch their hamstring muscles significantly further than could those in the exercise group.3
While there are several therapeutic modalities that can improve soft-tissue injuries, the research is pointing to chiropractic IASTM as producing significantly better results. When you consider that you are likely to see a number of patients with back, shoulder and even elbow pain (the technique shows excellent results for tennis elbow), the increasing popularity of IASTM makes sense, both for your patients and your bottom line.
- Le Cara E. Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization is rooted in ancient medicine. Chiropractic Economics Online. May 10, 2017.
- Lee JH, Lee DK, Oh JS. The effect of Graston technique on the pain and range of motion in patients with chronic low back pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2016;28(6):1852-1855.
- Moon JH, Jung JH, Won YS, Cho HY. Immediate effects of Graston Technique on hamstring muscle extensibility and pain intensity in patients with nonspecific low back pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2017;29(2):224-227.