You may have noticed these shiny metal tools in some of my photos, or seen “instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization” (IASTM) discussed as a treatment option in some of my posts. You may have even heard of different types of this treatment called “Graston Technique” or “Gua Sha”. But what is the benefit of having these (sometimes scary looking) tools used on you?
This type of instrument assisted treatment dates all the way back to 220 BC with Gua Sha technique, where different instruments made from spoons, coins, wood, bamboo, jade or even bones were used to scrape the soft tissues. The goal of treatment was to create petechiae (little blood spots) and ecchymosis (bruising) which was proposed to remove stagnant blood, promote normal circulation and metabolic processes.
Modern IASTM using the type of stainless steel tools pictured was developed by David Graston, with many similar systems following.
So what is the modern understanding of the benefits of this treatment? To aid in the healing process! This process is believed to stimulate the nervous system, break up abnormal tissue densities, and re-initiate the early stages of tissue healing. The design of the tools also helps your therapist better feel the areas of tissue adhesion.
Lets look a bit more into each of these benefits and what they mean.
- Nervous system stimulation
- As with any touch, these tools stimulate the skin and the different sensation receptors that lay below
- By stimulating different types of these receptors (i.e. pain and sensation) at the same time, it takes the brain longer to perceive the pain signals (pain gate theory)
- Stimulation of mechanoreceptors can allow increased range of motion, a similar way to foam rolling
- Improves proprioception- the body’s ability to sense position in space
- Breaking up abnormal tissue densities
- One of the most common uses of this type of therapy
- When treating a tendinopathy, IASTM helps decrease pain, improve range of motion and enable a faster return to function than traditional treatment
- This technique does this best when it is a part of other treatment modalities
- It can also assist when the connective tissue between layers of muscle are not gliding like they normally would
- Re-initiating the first stage of healing
- The microtrauma caused by this technique causes a local inflammatory response, similar to the one that happens at the time of injury
- We tend to think of inflammation as bad, but this is what brings the different healing factors to the injured area
- The increase in blood flow also helps to bring the necessary healing factors and nutrients to help the body rebuild injured tissues
This technique can be used for both acute and chronic conditions affecting the spine and extremities. Your chiropractor can assess your specific injury/condition determine if this type of treatment is appropriate for you.
This technique should not be used if you have open wounds or skin rashes, fractures, existing bruises, acute inflammatory conditions or are taking anti-coagulant medications. Always make sure to be full and complete in the medical history that you provide to your chiropractor.
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- Smart Tools Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization Certification Level 1