Instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) is a safe and effective technique that every practitioner should have in their repertoire. However, learning the technique and buying the correct tool for you are two different things. Buying an IASTM instrument is like buying a new car – research must be done! You have to “test drive” these instruments to determine which one fits your treatment approach, your hand size, and your budget. It has to be practical, affordable, and effective.
With the largest known IASTM instrument collection in the world, we have definitely “test drove” enough tools to come up with these 5 rules to choosing the right IASTM instrument for you.
Rule #1: Ensure the instrument is suitable for the type of IASTM you want to perform
Every IASTM instrument is designed differently and every design dictates the efficacy of your treatment protocol.
Choosing the right design is like choosing whether you want a sports car or a mini van. There’s no right or wrong, it all depends on what you need it for – zipping around the country side at 100 km/h or packing up soccer balls and the kids to drive them to soccer practice.
Generally, the design optimizes the instrument for two different categories:
1. Diagnostic feedback/mechanical force transmission
Just as a stethoscope improves vibration sensation from the heart, IASTM improves your tactile feedback. For this purpose, you will want to choose an instrument that gives you feel and precision.
Generally, lighter instruments give better feedback and heavier instruments or sharper edges give better force transmission.
Note: Biomechanics and technique also play a huge role!
2. Neurological stimulation/myofascial mobilization
For this purpose, the treatment goal and outcome is more important than a possible subtle loss in tactile vibration. Often instruments with slightly heavier designs have better feeling of quality and reduce practitioner fatigue by letting the tool do the work.
Rule #2: ‘All-in-one instruments’ can work for you
All-in-one tools are best suited for soft tissue mobilization/neurological stimulation.
Generally, more organic shapes tend to better fit body parts and offer a larger number of treatment edges.
However, it is important to ensure you have safe and effective biomechanics during your treatment application.
An example of this tool can be:
Pro: Single instruments are easier to carry around and lower cost (vs. carrying around a whole instrument set) and you become extremely proficient with that instrument
Con: You may be limited to very specific uses and patient body shapes, however it has been our observation that most practitioners who buy multi tool sets typically only use their 1 or 2 favourites – why spend money on something you do not use?
Rule #3: Watch out for cheap materials
Plastics, Jade, Ivory, “training tools” all fall under the category of cheap materials.
Although they can still give some result, they cannot provide the efficacy that a precision-made stainless steel instrument can provide. This is because the materials cannot provide the same feedback, durability, and consistency of application.
Con: Will not provide good feedback, Will not provide quality, effective treatment, Will not allow you to learn proper IASTM technique
Rule #4: Treatment edges count! Not all stainless steel IASTM instruments are made the same
The more treatment edges and variability of bevels results in more treatment options.
– Single bevels give better penetration but are generally used in one direction
– Double bevels give slightly less penetration but can be used in both directions.
Many of the lower quality instrument sets sold by companies offer 1 or 2 treatment edges per tool, this greatly limits the usefulness of the instrument. More edges and variability give you more options for different regions & different sized patients. Some instruments are less than ~10% efficient based on this measure.
Pro: More edges and ergonomic design gives more therapeutic options and should be able to be used right or left handed (a very important feature to reduce practitioner strain)
Con: With more treatment edges it may be hard to find comfortable holding positions for some practitioners and may cost more to manufacture.
Rule #5: There’s no guarantee that your hands will be saved when using IASTM instruments
Choose instruments that are designed for your hands, ambidextrous in nature (right & left usability), and give better treatment options. There are a lot of companies that sell IASTM instruments and they all state that their products help save your hands. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily true.
All decent instruments are highly polished which provides a slicker look, smoother features, and excellent curves and bevels (i.e. they look pretty!). As wonderful as that is, this makes many tools extremely hard to grasp – especially when you apply emollients during your treatment – leading to a natural increase in grip and thus hand fatigue.
They neglect the most important thing – your money maker (no not that one ?) – YOUR HANDS. The only way to decrease hand fatigue with these tools is to relax your grip on the tool and have biomechanical forces transmitted through different regions of your hand that are not normally used.
To truly save your hands, choose techniques and instruments that have been ergonomically designed and can be used either right or left handed (i.e. has not neglected the importance of your hands). The most important instrument in your practice is YOU! So let’s ensure that your hands are protected for the longevity of you and your practice.
This is a simple and quick overview of the basics of choosing the right IASTM tool for you! To have the opportunity to “test drive” all these tools, learn more about how to use these IASTM instruments, and see how they become an extension of your own hand & improve your practice, visit ProHealth’s Seminar Schedule for upcoming IASTM workshops!
(BONUS: They may count for CE credits)