IASTM is a hands-on therapy where the doctor treats musculoskeletal injuries by using tools to apply pressure against the skin. These repetitive strokes, explained in greater detail below, pull, stretch, and release fascia scar tissue. By reducing the amount of internal scar tissue (or “adhesions”), IASTM can improve mobility. The process creates a controlled inflammation, which contributes to healing.
The layers of fibrous connective tissue in between our muscles, skin, and bone are called fascia. This tissue is made up of collagen fibers, and it stabilizes and allows flexibility of our muscles, skin, ligaments, and other internal parts. In areas where the body is healthy, muscles are able to slide without being restricted.
Normal, healthy connective tissue runs in orderly lines; they have a regular, slightly wavy pattern, and run parallel, like automobiles on a smooth, straight highway. But after an injury, the fascia can heal in chaotic shapes that are more like bumper cars than parallel lines. Where muscles once slid along smoothly, the fascia have created “traffic jams.”
During an injury’s healing process, more collagen is laid down, sometimes making the fascia too dense and creating adhesions. This is a little bit like the scars we see on our skin. However, unlike the scars outside our body, which are merely superficial, scar tissue in our fascia can limit the range of motion and function of our muscles and joints, causing pain.
IASTM can sometimes look like deep tissue massage, but with tools being used to apply gentle force. The tools and techniques for IASTM are designed to create controlled “microtrauma” to the fascia, which gives them the opportunity to re-absorb excess tissue, among other things. They can then heal in the organized directions they were meant to, rather than in the “scars” they formed after the initial injury.