Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization: A Systematic Review and Effect-Size Analysis

J Athl Train. 2019 Jul;54(7):808-821. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-481-17. Epub 2019 Jul 19.


Objective: To determine the overall effectiveness of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) in improving range of motion (ROM), pain, strength, and patient-reported function in order to provide recommendations for use. We also sought to examine the influence of IASTM on injured and healthy participants, body part treated, and product used.

Data sources: We searched the Academic Search Premier, Alt Healthwatch, CINAHL Complete, Cochrane Library, MEDLINE with full text, NLM PubMed, Physical Education Index, Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro), SPORTDiscus with full text, and Web of Science databases for articles published from 1997 through 2016. The Boolean string advantEDGE OR astym OR graston OR iastm OR "instrument assist* soft tissue mobil*" OR "augment* soft tissue mobil*" OR "myofascial release" OR "instrument assist* massage" OR "augment* massage" OR "instrument assist* cross fiber massage" was used.

Study selection: Included articles were randomized controlled trials that measured ROM, pain, strength, or patient-reported function and compared IASTM treatment with at least 1 other group.

Data extraction: Thirteen articles met the inclusion criteria. Four independent reviewers assessed study quality using the PEDro and Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine scales. Twelve articles were included in the effect-size analysis.

Data synthesis: The average PEDro score for studies of uninjured participants was 5.83 (range = 5 to 7) and that for studies of injured participants was 5.86 (range = 3 to 7). Large effect sizes were found in outcomes for ROM (uninjured participants), pain (injured participants), and patient-reported function (injured participants). The different IASTM tools used in these studies revealed similar effect sizes in the various outcomes.

Conclusions: The current literature provides support for IASTM in improving ROM in uninjured individuals as well as pain and patient-reported function (or both) in injured patients. More high-quality research involving a larger variety of patients and products is needed to further substantiate and allow for generalization of these findings.

Keywords: clinical meaningfulness; critical summary; soft tissue therapy.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Manipulation, Orthopedic*
  • Massage*
  • Pain
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy*