In a way, all massage therapy is soft tissue mobilization—muscle is, after all, soft tissue.

Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) is one technique used to treat specific problems that likely cause your clients a great deal of pain, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, plantar fasciitis and shin splints. IASTM allows the therapist to “reach” restrictions that may not be accessible with the fingers or hands, such as scar tissue and other restrictions deep within the tissue. Myofascial release and trigger point therapy can be performed with IASTM tools on tissue that may otherwise be unreachable.

The Tools

There are a number of IASTM tools on the market, which are constructed of different materials including plastic, jade, wood and stainless steel, among others. Many experts agree that stainless steel is the superior choice.

While there are several patented techniques and sets of IASTM tools available, the types of tools you use will depend on your preferences, training, the types of problems you see in your clients and numerous other factors. You may even find that you need several sizes of various tools.

The Cream

If you are performing IASTM, you’ll need a massage cream, and, just as with other types of massage, the cream you use is important because you will want a specific glide and finish. You need to be able to use the tool properly and to maintain control. One of the functions of a cream used for IASTM is that it creates a barrier between the tool and the client’s body, offering some protection.         

As always, ingredients are important when it comes to the cream you choose. Obviously, you want a cream of the highest possible quality—higher quality creams last longer, pose less risk in general and work better overall. By choosing a product that is designed specifically for IASTM, you are most likely to get a cream that has the right amount of glide, tackiness and thickness for the job.

Clients who need IASTM therapy have likely been in pain for quite some time, so selecting a cream that contains ingredients that are soothing can also be important. Arnica is a popular ingredient that may have a similar effect to ibuprofen on pain, and many creams contain shea butter or a similar ingredient that is good for the skin.