Soft tissue mobilization and IASTM (instrument-assisted soft tissue manipulation) can speed healing by aiding the body’s natural healing response
Soft tissue mobilization or manipulation covers a wide variety of treatments. In fact, the phrase soft tissue describes quite a few different things — ligaments, tendons, and muscles are all examples of soft tissue in the human body.
Sports, work, and even day-to-day activities can result in injury to the soft tissue,1 and, often, some kind of treatment to the structure of the body, such as adjustments, requires soft tissue manipulation.
Methods of soft tissue mobilization
There are a number of methods employed by practitioners to perform soft tissue manipulation. Well-known modalities such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and certain types of physical therapy are all forms of soft tissue mobilization.
Specific tools are sometimes necessary for treatment. Tendinopathies, such as plantar fasciitis, can be successfully treated with instrument assisted soft tissue manipulation (IASTM). In the case of plantar fasciitis, the instruments are needed to reach the small areas of the foot.2
When does it work best?
The best candidates for IASTM are those who are somewhat younger and who are willing to exercise. IASTM initiates the body’s natural healing responses, such as increasing blood flow to the area of treatment, and when the technique is combined with light exercise, the results are most positive. This is not to say that soft tissue mobilization will not help older patients or those who have difficulty exercising, but more active people tend to have the best outcomes.
In some cases, instrument adjustments and soft tissue manipulation can be used together successfully. When the physical structure of the bones is out of place, requiring adjustment, the soft tissue surrounding those bones is stretched or twisted or otherwise in a less than ideal state. DCs may choose to perform an instrument-assisted adjustment accompanied by some form of soft tissue manipulation.
Partnerships for healing
Although instrument adjustments can be performed independently from soft tissue manipulation, and vice versa, the two treatments often work well together. This is one reason massage therapists and DCs form partnerships in many instances.
Fascia repair can sometimes be achieved by massaging the impacted area, breaking down scar tissue that has formed, and creating an environment that stimulates the growth of additional blood vessels, thus improving oxygen and nutrient flow and enhancing recovery. Patients can also be encouraged to engage in at-home IASTM-care techniques, promoting their own myofascial release and fascia repair. Both of these options can help fascia become more pliable, reducing their range of motion restrictions and related pain, and breaking-up troubled areas
Using the available tools at the appropriate times helps patients hurt less and function better. Those tools include, among other things, manual and instrument assisted adjusting, and soft tissue manipulation with or without instruments. DCs who make the most of their knowledge, time, and tools provide the best care.
1 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. “Sprains, strains, and other soft-tissue injuries.” OrthoInfo.AAOS.org. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00304. Reviewed July 2007. Accessed April 2015.
2 American Chiropractic Association. “Plantar fasciitis.” ACAToday.org. https://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=5290. Accessed April 2015.