Beneath our skin is an integral framework of tissue called fascia. Comprised primarily of collagen fibres, it is designed to stabilize and also allow flexibility of tissues, including; muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, skin, vascular tissues (capillaries and venous plexus) and other internal structures. In a healthy system, all of these tissues are able to slide without restriction. However, often after a soft tissue injury, cells in our body called fibroblasts lay down more collagen, increasing the fascial density and thereby creating adhesions in these subcutaneous tissues. This may then limit the mobility and function of muscles, joints and the other connective tissues in the region.
Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) employs the use of specially designed instruments and therapeutic techniques that have been shown to have a number of benefits in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. To promote optimal healing and function the effects of IASTM can be defined in 3 separate categories:
- Mechanical stimulation – by compressing, stretching and mobilizing fascial tissues below the skin, we can reduce the restrictive effects fo adhesions.
- Vascularization – by using tools on the skin we increase local vascularization, thereby improving the movement of blood through capillary beds to promote tissue healing.
- Neurologic stimulation – by influencing numerous sensory receptors – mechanoreceptors and nociceptors – in the skin and subcutaneous tissues with the use of these tools, we can activate neurologic pathways and reflexes that affect soft tissue tone and mobility. This is called Neurosensory Modulation and it appears we may actually just be scratching the surface on how we can utilize the nervous system and its ability to normalize tissues, mitigate pain and improve motor control! Stay tuned for a more in-depth post about these sensory effects.
Simply put, IASTM has found its place in the soft tissue therapeutics involved in musculoskeletal health care, improving mobility, reducing pain and improving healing time.