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  • Writer's pictureAriela Liberman

Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization in Physical Therapy

Updated: Jan 10

Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM), more commonly known as muscle scraping, is a form of physical therapy with its origins in traditional Eastern Chinese medicine, made popular again by the infamous Gua Sha tool, or a smooth, rounded-edge instrument that scrapes certain areas of your body to promote circulation.

Although you may have seen the Gua Sha tool on social media used on the face for skincare, IASTM is utilized to aid in pain recovery.

muscle scraping therapy
IASTM technique applied to a Rehab United patient

What is IASTM?

IASTM is known by many names, such as Gua Sha, muscle scraping, and the Graston Technique; however, IASTM is a more modern approach employed by physical therapists, chiropractors, or other certified practitioners.

IASTM is a manual therapy technique targeting soft-tissue areas of the body to assist in recovery; whether that be from chronic pain, lack of mobility, or maintenance reasons.

The typical scraping tool used by practitioners is either smooth metal or hard plastic, scraped across muscle tissue. However, the area that the scraping tool is applied to must be oiled, in order for the tool to glide gently across the body.

Here's Chris Guidicelli, Clinic Director of Kearny Mesa and Downtown, applying the IASTM technique to a patient with range of motion issues after a knee replacement:

What Are the Benefits of IASTM?

There are many benefits of receiving IASTM, some of which include pain relief, improved range of motion, and anti-inflammation.

Pain Relief

It is widely known that IASTM can alleviate pain, especially when it comes to post-workout soreness, as the scraping tool massages soft tissue. Studies also show that IASTM can reduce chronic pain, as neck-pain subjects reported a significant decrease in pain intensity after only 1 week. In another study, patients who suffered from chronic lumbar pain and athletic injuries both felt relief after multiple sessions of IASTM.

Range of Motion

Studies show that IASTM can increase range of motion from the heat it produces, therefore softening up the tissue and improving flexibility. The same study states that significant improvement in range of motion was seen in the hamstrings of adult men, women, and athletes after 1 use.


The IASTM technique can reduce inflammation by releasing inflammatory messengers and immune cell messengers that suppress those inflammatory ones. The suppression of inflammatory messenger cells reduces swelling and inflammation in the body.

Is IASTM Treatment Painful?

This treatment is not supposed to be intensely painful, and usually, after the first session you shouldn't experience too many side effects, but there are a few things to be aware of.

According to the Arizona Chiropractic & Holistic Health Center, possible side effects can include:

  1. Discomfort or Pain: depending on the area of the body, you may feel slight discomfort or soreness afterward.

  2. Redness: redness on the body is normal after an IASTM session.

  3. Bruising: tissue adhesions can cause bruising around the treatment area.

  4. Spontaneous Connective Tissue Release: old scar tissue can be released during treatment which can trigger physical, mental, or emotional reactions.

IASTM is intended to stimulate blood circulation, break down scar tissue, and improve pain, and in doing so mild pain or side effects can occur in order to promote cell recovery, however, it should never be more than mild discomfort.

How Long Does IASTM Treatment Take to Feel the Benefits?

You can start to feel relief from treatment after only one session, but that's usually temporary. After three to four treatments, lasting relief can be felt for most.

At Rehab United, techniques such as IASTM are embedded into treatment plans based on the patient's needs. If your physical therapist believes this treatment would benefit your recovery, they will utilize it in your session. In conjunction with other techniques and practices, IASTM is a useful tool utilized at Rehab United to provide patients with pain relief and it encourages a quick recovery.

*You should not receive this treatment if any of these apply:

  • You have an infection

  • You're taking blood thinners

  • You have a blood clot

  • You have bruises, burns, or swelling

  • You have high blood pressure

Always check with your physical therapist or certified physician before performing IASTM on yourself, as it's not for everyone. For the safest care, receive IASTM from a professional.

Interested in Physical Therapy?

If you’re wondering if you should see a Physical therapist in San Diego, fill out our contact form or give us a call at (858)-279-5570. From our front desk to our Physical therapists, everyone is highly trained to assist you in finding the best possible care. At Rehab United, we excel in combining our services to give you the best experience and get you back to doing what you love.


Ariela Liberman is a Marketing Associate and a staff writer for Rehab United, with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies. Born and raised in San Diego, she is a Southern California native with a passion for writing, digital marketing, health, and wellness.

Dr. Valle is a Physical Therapist, Clinic Director of Rehab United in Escondido, and Director of Rehab United’s Quality Assurance Program. As a graduate of USC’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, Dr. Valle has always emphasized the implementation of Evidence-Based Practice into all plans of care. Throughout his 12 years of experience, Dr. Valle has treated thousands of orthopedic-related and sports injuries and mentored countless Physical Therapists and Students of Physical Therapy.


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