IASTM (Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization) uses a hard-edged instrument made of metal, plastic or ceramic to add shearing stress to soft tissue in order to enhance the body’s healing response. Analgesia, neuromuscular facilitation and/or inhibition, and more rapid tissue healing are all common outcomes of treatment.
A form of IASTM known as gua sha (gua = “to scrape or scratch,” sha = loosely translated as “disease”) has its origins in Chinese folk medicine, with no known starting point. Gua Sha treatments consist of using traditional tools such as portions of water buffalo horns or shaped pieces of jade, or non-traditional tools such as jar lids and oriental soup spoons to create friction over the skin.
The primary goal is to produce a warming reaction to bring “sha” to the surface so it leaves the body. These techniques appeared in the West on a large scale in the mid-to-late 1970s, with Vietnamese refugees practicing cao gio (coin rubbing), which prompted school officials to suspect child abuse due to these children showing up with bruising from treatment at home. Gua sha is practiced on a moderate scale by massage therapists and practitioners of Eastern medicine.
The most widely known modern IASTM instruments and techniques developed independent of gua sha can be traced to Dave Graston. Graston was a machinist and assembly line worker in the auto industry who developed chronic knee problems as a result of a poor surgical outcome from a waterskiing accident.
Graston discovered that by using the edge of a No. 2 pencil to perform friction massage to his stiff knee, his workouts at the gym were more comfortable, and he was gaining motion and function. He machine-shaped metal tools to enhance his results, and modern-day IASTM was born.
IASTM research has shown that it is effective for the breakdown of scar tissue and fascial restrictions, as well as restoring range of motion. Request it during your next session and see for yourself!