Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) Tools – What Are The Differences Between Them?

Janki KotakMuscle Scraping, Tools1 Comment

Sidekick IASTM Tools

Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) tools vary in technique, shape, size, and material. Your Chiropractor will normally use an IASTM tool if you have limited motion, pain during motion, motor control issues, and muscle recruitment issues. Instruments are made up of different materials, have different shapes, and are used for a variety of reasons.

Here is a list of different types instruments:

Spoon Shaped Tools


Chinese Gua Sha practitioners most commonly use this tool with some type of heating lubricant. This is also the most affordable tool and is traditionally made using Buffalo Horn. Spoon shaped tools allow heat to be brought to the area and causes bruising and increased blood flow. Gua Sha tools do not cause a resonating sensation to the practitioner as stainless steel materials do; however is very beneficial for bringing heat the surface and releasing toxins through the inflammatory process.

These tools are commonly shaped like a spoon with a broad, smooth, curved edge. This lightweight tool is great for fast results in a variety of body regions and is used more superficially. Another spoon shaped Gua Sha tool is made up of Jade. These tools are generally heavy, slippery material that can break easily if dropped. However, Jade and Buffalo Horn tool area commonly used with a scraping technique versus a sheering technique used by stainless steel tools.

Sidekick’s Curve is the perfect entry level tool for someone looking to try a gua sha tool for the first time.

Handle bar

This again is used with a sheering stress and can result in bruising in the area. This grip is used by many instrument assisted techniques and can vary in different sizes and shapes. Stainless steel instruments will create a resonance when driven over a rough patch, which allows feedback for the practitioner. This can result in bruising; however, the idea behind many of these tools is to break up adhesions and scar tissue. Stainless steel tools are more of a modern day western instrument assisted mobilization. Sidekick’s Bow Muscle Scraper features a dual handle-bar design with a proprietary textured grip.

The handlebar tools are excellent for using in larger areas, such as the hamstrings and quads due to the larger surface area.

Beveled edge tools

This shape is commonly used in stainless steel instruments. They can come in a single-beveled edge or double-beveled edge. The double-beveled edge, which is used in more sensitive areas, limits the depth of the tool penetrating the tissue. This allows access to smaller areas, such as the foot, wrist, neck, etc. The single beveled edge allows for deeper penetration of tissue and is used for separation of subcutaneous scar tissue.

Another benefit of the double-beveled edge is that it can be used in both directions. This is especially useful for practitioners who are left handed as most are designed for the right hand.

Many of these tools have concave and convex contours so that the practitioner can use this tool on multiple body parts (one edge would fit perfectly around the wrist for example, whilst another around the ankle).

Most instruments are made of hard-edged curved material to add shearing or scraping stress to the soft tissue area. The idea of most instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization techniques is to break up adhesions and bring fresh blood flow to the area to promote healing. The difference lies in what material and shape of the tool. Shapes vary from a beveled shape, handlebar shape, and spoon shaped. The tools normally have multiple edges used for different areas of the body. It is important to consider what is best for your needs as a practitioner to better help serve your patients.


Butler, Mark PT, DPT, OCS, Cert. MDT. “Targeting restrictions with instrument-assissted soft-tissue mobilization”. Advance Magazine. Oct. 2013.

Fowler, S Wilson; J, and Sevier, TL, trauma disorders, 2000.

Stow, Robert PhD, ATC, CSCS. “Instrument-Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization”. Therapeutic Modalities: International Journal of Athletic Therapy & Training. May 2011.

Warren, Mark. IASTM Instruments: Choosing What’s Right for You. Healthconcepts. 2016.

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Dr. Janki Kotak, a Board Certified Chiropractor in the Upstate New York Region, has experience with several Chiropractic techniques, such as NIMMO, Cox Flexion-Distraction, Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Manipulation, Diversified Adjusting Techniques, and Rocktape. She is a Chiropractic Physician at NYON Health and Wellness in Buffalo, NY. She is active in the Chiropractic community through her board position for the Regional District of the New York State Chiropractic Association.

One Comment on “Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) Tools – What Are The Differences Between Them?”

  1. Gua sha tools work! As a massage therapist Im going to start incorporating this into my massage sessions. First I’ll work on myself lol! My arms take a beating from repetiveness of massages I perform on my clients. What do you suggest is a Great tool to start out with? Thankyou! ❤

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