Recent studies have found that IASTM can help athletes with a number of difficult-to-heal injuries
Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, or IASTM for short, is not a new concept, with notations of the first instrument-aided techniques being performed as far back as 220 B.C. That said, research is continuing to support the positive effects of this treatment modality, including IASTM for tennis elbow and a wide range of other injuries.
For example, a systematic review published in Physical Therapy Reviews in 2017 notes that IASTM provides multiple benefits, some of which include “an increase in blood flow, reduction in tissue viscosity, myofascial release, interruption of pain receptors, and improvements of flexibility of underlying tissue.”
However, one specific area that is showing promising results is its treatment effects on tennis elbow and other chronic injuries.
IASTM for tennis elbow
Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) impacts between one and three percent of the population according to the Cleveland Clinic, often afflicting more men than women and appearing most in individuals in the 30 to 50-year-old age range.
Additionally, though this condition does tend to appear more often in actual tennis players (10-50%), anyone can develop tennis elbow. This is particularly true for athletes who must repetitively move their arms while playing their sport of choice, which includes golfers, baseball players, and bowlers.
According to a 2017 study published in The Journal of Korean Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy, after six weeks of care, patients with lateral epicondylitis not only experienced improvements in their levels of pain, but also in their grip strength and proprioception.
Shoulder injuries and IASTM
Shoulder injuries can also be problematic for athletes because, beyond being in pain and having functional limitations, “recurrent shoulder instability has also been associated with the increased risk of osteoarthritis in the shoulder” according to the United States Bone and Join Initiative.
Recent studies have found that IASTM can help athletes with painful shoulder injuries. For instance, one 2017 study looked at a weightlifter diagnosed with subacromial pain syndrome, a condition that appears in as many as 30% of patients presenting with shoulder pain.
After three IASTM treatment sessions, the weightlifter reported a decrease in pain and improvements in function. Results were published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
These types of positive effects are consistent with effects noted in previous studies involving shoulder function and IASTM, such as a 2014 piece of research which highlighted how this treatment modality provides range of motion improvements in individuals playing baseball.
Using instruments to treat chronic foot pain
One cannot talk about chronic pain without talking about conditions that impact the feet. This is partially because almost every sport utilizes the feet in some respect, but also because statistics reveal that, far too often, people with foot pain rely on medications to ease the discomfort.
For example, though plantar fasciitis only appears in less than one percent of adult Americans according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, approximately 41% of individuals diagnosed with this condition report taking prescription pain medications.
With the now-known impact of this category of medicines coming more to the forefront — some of which include an elevated risk of addiction and overdose — this makes finding an alternative way to treat chronic foot pain beneficial to these individual’s health and wellness. One option is IASTM.
In the May/June 2019 issue of the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, a study was published involving 11 individuals with plantar heel pain. To qualify, the pain had to persist for at least six weeks, but no longer than a year.
All participants engaged in the same home therapy program (which included exercise and stretching), while the experimental group also received treatment with IASTM utilizing the Graston technique. Clinically-important differences were noted in regard to the level of pain experienced by one-third of the home therapy participants. However, all of the participants receiving IASTM met this threshold upon conclusion of the study, with four out of five still reporting positive effects 90 days post-treatment.
Recent studies such as these highlight the effectiveness of IASTM for tennis elbow and other chronic injuries, mainly by breaking down scar tissue, adhesions and fascial restrictions that might not otherwise heal, even with rest, stimulating tissue remodeling and repair. Though many researchers indicate a need for continued discovery in this area, many also agree that the preliminary findings are showing positive results. That makes this treatment modality one to consider when treating patients with chronic pain conditions.