Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation (IASTM) is rapidly becoming a popular tool for massage therapists to look into for use in their practices.

Many massage therapists use tools in their massage sessions. Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation (IASTM) is rapidly becoming a popular tool and something for massage therapists to look into for use in their practices.

IASTM is a manual therapy approach to musculoskeletal injuries using tools. IASTM tools can be used to address fascial restrictions as well as areas of the body that exhibit soft tissue fibrosis, chronic inflammation or degeneration. As a rehab tool, IASTM reduces pain and increases range of motion.

There are many things to consider when purchasing and using IASTM tools in your practice, including: how the tool feels to you and the client you are working with; how it fits into your practice; and the type of massage you do. The price of the tool and how much you want to use the tool in your work should also be considered.

IASTM in Session

Understanding how the body responds to the different uses of IASTM tools will help you utilize the tool to its full potential with your clients. Methods and uses of IASTM tools differ widely among practitioners. This is for you to decide and educate yourself on.

One of the ways IASTM tools work is by causing stimulation to an area of work, which initiates a local inflammatory response. The controlled microtrauma facilitates the body’s healing.

How the client responds to the tool is a big part of why it’s a good idea to have multiple tools on hand. Different tools work better on different parts of the body. Some tools offer varied sides and edges, so they are multi-use. Different tools also provide different session outcomes. Open communication with your client on feel is key. Talk to your clients and get their feedback. Some clients prefer a lighter-weighted tool with blunt edges or a longer tool with a sharper edge.

Some massage therapists feel they aren’t interested in tools because they do more “soft tissue and relaxing massage”—but taking a tool course or diving into how adding a tool to your practice can help your clients will support your understanding of tools, and aid you in communicating a tool’s benefits. It’s all in how you use the tool. IASTM isn’t just for deep tissue or sports massage. Bamboo sticks can provide a nice, even glide to relax the body, for example. Look into adding tools to your relaxation massage as well.

You can use a tool that lets you feel the body more and therefore acts as an extension of your hand so that you can feel what it is doing to the tissue underneath. You can use tools for varying reasons and outcomes desired for clients.

Oftentimes I use an IASTM tool to locate issues on my clients. I’ll run the tool lightly over the muscles and feel if there is any congestion in the tissue. Then I’ll use the tool to address the problem area. I think the old notion that tools are only for aggressive work is finally fading, and the new science on how therapists can utilize tools is coming out.

I encourage you to map out why you want to add IASTM tools to your practice and then look up the varying educational courses that correspond with the outcomes you want for your clients. Taking courses on multiple methods is always a good option and keeps you updated on continuing education and new methods.

I’ve taken courses and talked with eductors of most of the IASTM methods, so I can easily talk to clients about their options and how tools added to a session can help them.

Using outdated methods or unproven science with IASTM tools damages the reputation of massage therapists, so keeping updated and educated is a must. Some clients don’t understand the varying options, and when you pull out tools they might get a little nervous. In my practice, I talk with them about options and how the tools work and feel—and I have yet to have any clients not want me to use tools with them.

Proper Care

Hygiene is a big factor when you use tools. Use alcohol to wipe tools off and regularly clean all of your tools thoroughly. I have a sports performance business, and staph infections are something clients deal with in the locker room—and if tools aren’t cleaned properly, it can easily be spread. If you use the tools on feet, you must either wipe off the tool or have multiple tools available so when you work on other parts of the body you won’t spread bacteria or germs.

Keep alcohol wipes close by and also soak or spray tools with 91 percent isopropyl alcohol after every use to keep them clean. Keep your tools in a clean carrying case so they don’t get nicked up or dirty when you travel.

You can use an emollient like a beeswax mix or coconut oil for better glide for the client. Take out what you need or apply it to the clean tool so that cross contamination between clients doesn’t occur.

Tools for Longevity

Many massage therapists have added tools to their practices because doing so will help keep them working longer with less stress on their hands and bodies.

When incorporating tools into massage work, ergonomics is one of the first things to look at. How a tool feels to you and the client is a big part of finding the right tools for your practice. Many of the massage therapists I talk with say how the tool fits in their hand and its workability over the course of the day is a big part of why they choose the tools they do.

In my massage therapy education, we learned about tools and how to use them and were encouraged to try everything from the expensive, professionally made stainless steel tools to the blunt end of a butter knife and a thick plastic soup spoon. I encourage you to try multiple tools and have a few on hand in your practice.

I own both stainless steel and plastic tools. I personally like the feel of the stainless steel over plastic, but I travel quite a bit with my athlete clients and having a plastic tool is necessary for TSA compliance when I have a tool in my carry-on luggage. I also work with tools in different sizes. I see multiple clients a day and work long hours, so grip is important for me because my hands will hurt if the grip isn’t right for my hand. I also change up how I hold a tool and how much pressure I use during sessions.

Choosing Tools

IASTM tools can be expensive, but are well worth the investment. I suggest choosing a tool company that you can have ongoing communication with and that has education and support associated with their tool. Then you can be a part of a community, and stay up-to-date on new science and in contact with others using the same tools. Talking to people who utilize tools in their practice and have similar backgrounds and work is another great way to learn various ways to use tools and options in client care.

The great thing is, as the popularity of IASTM use in massage practices increases, affordable options and education will also increase with demand.

Many popular product companies have now introduced IASTM tool options and education into their product lines. Make sure the IASTM tools and education you are considering are high-quality products by looking at reviews and what other reputable massage therapists are using in their practices. Be diligent in looking at the quality of the product and how you can use it.

Overall, education and experience with IASTM goes a long way toward having a positive outcome with your clients. It took me awhile to feel comfortable using tools in my practice because I rely so much on the feel of the tissue when working with my clients, but after much practice and trying different methods and education, I can’t imagine not utilizing IASTM in my work.

My clients have been great with feedback and even have their favorite tools for use in their sessions. The use of IASTM tools in massage therapy is growing, and it is time to look into it for yourself and for your clients.

About the Author:

Jill Magee

Jill Magee, CMT, is an expert in the field of body mechanics and muscle balance with specialization in athletic assessment and corrective training. She is a RockTape ambassador and RockFit instructor, holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and sports coaching, and is a certified personal trainer.

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