During my time as a sports physio I have always bantered with the rugby players telling them that physio's don't do 'rubs'!!! As an uptight clinician trying to make my treatment methods sound more technical, I like to use the term STMs - Soft tissue mobilisations (slightly pretentious I agree!!). However, over the past few years the players have been getting to grips with a new term... IASTMs!!! As if STMs wasn't a big enough step!!! The new jargon in the treatment room is - Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilisations (IASTMs).
It was at the start of pre-season around 2010 that a new treatment technique stirred my interest. I found an advert online for a tool called 'The Dolphin'. This is a hand made piece, designed and crafted by Midlands based precision engineer Malcolm Innes, from iamtools.co.uk. I was immediately impressed with what I saw and looked further into the potential benefits of adding an IASTM tool to my armoury. Prior to diving in to a purchase I canvassed opinion amongst my piers and found that some were already practicing IASTMs. They were using a variety of different tools and techniques, including the Graston technique, the Kinnective tool and some of them the IAM tools.... It was time to make a decision!!
The Dolphin by IAM Tools
I have now been using the dolphin for around five years and it has definitely been a great addition to my treatment options, and a valuable adjunct to the traditional physiotherapy modalities used. It is also a great 'hand saver' serving the dual purpose of treating the patient, whilst preserving my creaking thumbs... something we all appreciate after a long week in clinic!! There are several different ways of using the tool, including scanning strokes, treatment strokes, plucking and scooping. I have found that I use anatomical knowledge to influence and guide my treatments with various cases, working in different directions depending on where I feel tension or restriction in the tissues.
Having attended the level 1 course by Kinnective and had 'one to one' training with Lucy Allitt from IAM Tools, I have a tendency to use fairly light pressure when using the dolphin tool. There are however occasions (especially with more robust muscular patients), that I use deeper tissue techniques. This is dependent on what I feel from the tissue, as I scan with the tool. For the deeper tissue techniques, I have found that the 'Fin' by IAM Tools a great alternative to the 'Dolphin'. When applying longer, smoother strokes with greater pressure, the Fin is easier to handle with slightly more forgiving bevelled edges.
I would recommend attending a course prior to using an IASTMs tool, as it does help improve the effectiveness of your treatment technique. Having spent time exchanging ideas with fellow clinicians, I prefer the approach of initially using the tools in a static position, then progressing to a more functional movement. Scanning the tissues for areas of restriction in a static position helps familiarise the patient with the feel and pressure of the technique. From the static position, I have found great results in treating the patient in functional positions, moving in a pattern appropriate to their sport, occuaption or normal daily activity.
This can be applied to all sports and / or occupational demands. It must be said that IASTMs is a relatively new technique with no significant research or evdience behind it. Regardess of the limited resrach this is a treatment techinique that I enjoying using and regualrly observe beneficial clinical results, day to day. The feedback to date has generally been positive from patients, with the clinical results supporting the use of the tools.
If you have an injury or problem that you feel may benefit from IASTM treatment please contact our clinic. Alternatively please share your views, comments or experiences of using IASTMs techniques via our Twitter page @PhysioCardiff.
Daniel Jones MCSP
Director / Chartered Physiotherapist
Health & Sports Physiotherapy
Our personlised branded 'Fin' IAM Tool