Introduction to IASTM tools (IASTM instruments):
Quick and Easy Recommendations for Treating Upper Extremities with Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization.
In just three to five minutes, you can accurately determine key soft tissue dysfunctions in the upper extremity AND perform treatment with IASTM tools on those dysfunctions. OK, you’re thinking what the heck is a “dysfunction.” In my experience a soft tissue dysfunction is a palpable area of tissue that is thickened, nodular, or painful with or without referral. Sounds like a Trigger Point, right? Pretty much, except that I prefer the overhauled mapping and rationale provided by the Stecco family with their laboriously researched theories of Fascial Manipulation (FM).
At any rate, mobilization, therapeutic exercise, ROM facilitation, massage, nutrition, ergonomics are all key areas of treatment for upper extremity conditions, and if you’re reading this article you are a likely a practitioner of one or more of the above. But, as a clinician who did ALL of the above for for several years with modestly successful outcomes I can tell you that I started getting way better results in the upper extremities when I added IASTM tool protocols to the mix.
So, what are IASTM tools anyway? And, how are they different from other massage tools? Traditionally, IASTM tools have an edge that is profiled in different sized convexities or concavities to access the soft tissues in a more exact manner than traditional hand contacts like thumb, thenar, forearm, etc. No, not “better” than the hand (that is a sacrilege)… just different. You can see below that the IASTM instruments are making contact in a unique way.
In so many words, this is what makes the contact, “unique.” First the scale of contact is smaller. The narrow edge will penetrate deeper and can be more accurately focused on an area of interest. Second, the smoothness/hardness of the contact (material properties of stainless steel) will allow both treatment without deformation- as when your fingers or palm deforms as its’ contact moves on the surface anatomy- and, palpation- giving you resonance “feedback” as to the problematic areas of fascial restriction or densification. A quick note on palpation “feedback.” I have found that the thumb/finger is better for determining soft tissue dysfunction in muscle bellies, and the IASTM tools / IASTM instruments excel in the smaller areas of anatomy like joint capsules, ligaments, and tendons.
Medical Grade 304 Stainless – “Whale” Gua Sha Tool
So you may be thinking, how exactly will this help with upper extremity conditions- what is the process involved and how long does it take? Answer to second question first- treatment is about 3 minutes per area/density/point. You may find only one to work on or a few. As to exact recommendations for treating upper extremity conditions with instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization, here are some conditions to think about:
Lateral Epicondylitis- scan down into the extensor tendons for soft tissue restriction or density with a “Small” scale IASTM Tool like the Healing Edge S II. Check the capsule of the radial head with a “hook” contact. Use a long concavity to perform deep fascial release strokes in the triceps. Get rid of the compression brace and recommend the Theraband FlexBar for home exercise.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome- your patient complains of “tingling” into the fingers. Nearly never this is caused by exclusively by thickening of the transverse ligament of the wrist. Think about it, overuse would affect all wrist flexor tendons, and Median N. sheath all the way to the lateral foramen. Use nerve channeling advanced strokes along the Median N. path and perform modified Cyriax cross friction strokes in the wrist/finger flexors. Give your patient stretches for pectoralis minor and scalenes, and for gosh sakes make sure they have a wedge (or adjustable forward pan tilt) for their office chair.
Rotator Cuff Impingement- use the Trigger Point Tool in the supraspinatus fossa + infraspinatus + subscapularis and perform warming pre treatment stroke. Use a prow of a small IASTM tool with Hyaluronic Acid Release stroke in the rotator cuff tendon. Deep fascial release and PIR stretching of pectoralis major/minor. Send your patient home with explicit instructions for performing Brugger’s Posture Restoration exercise.
Trigger Finger- there never was a better condition to treat with IASTM instruments. The thumb is bulky and awkward when trying to work alongside a tendon that is a 4-5mm in width. With the Detail Tool “Hook” you can get alongside and even “lift” the tendon away from its fascial restrictions.
Putting the right combination of treatments together on the right dysfunctional tissues is the key to great success with upper extremity conditions. IASTM instruments or IASTM tools are one key component of this “right” combination. For A LOT more info on conditions, theory, and treatment check out our IASTM Primer Download in the right sidebar.
IASTM tools or IASTM instruments– profiled edge tools used to make contact with human anatomy with more accuracy/intensity than traditional practitioner hand contacts. Click here to learn more about tool sets.
Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization– The addition of a polished tool edge or point acting as a fulcrum or force multiplier during contact for soft tissue techniques. Click here to learn about IASTM technique.
Fascial Manipulation– Technique developed by Luigi Stecco that postulates a new Hyaluronic Acid Theory of myofascial dysfunction. This theory posits that HA “desifies” due to overuse/injury and is the main culprit behind somatic pain syndromes. Click here to download key Fascial Manipulation articles.