The human body is an amazing system of interconnected tissues and organ systems designed to handle and thrive against the forces of life, work, and sport. Our body tissues such as bone, muscle, and tendons are extremely resilient to repetitive forces, but can be modified through progressive, consistent loading. Examples include improvements in bone density, skeletal or heart muscle with exercise, as well as, changes in your smile through braces. All of these examples demonstrate the consistent forces and stimuli required to cause a body’s tissue to adapt. Conversely, smaller less consistent forces are unlikely to cause a tissue to adapt. Despite these physiological constants some health practitioners continue to recommend rolling an IT band or using metal instruments to break up adhesions, scar tissue, or improve tissue health. A new review of the available medical evidence highlights the limitations of these interventions.
A review article in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation analyzed the available evidence on the use of instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization among healthy and injured participants (Nazari et al. 2019). Authors reviewed 9 available trials on the effectiveness of these interventions on outcomes including pain, range of motion, strength or function. In head to head trials, instrumented assisted soft tissue mobilization was not more effective than a control group or other interventions. Authors of the review found only one trial which found small effects of improved muscle performance in active individuals compared to no treatment. The authors of the review concluded “the current evidence does not support the use of instrumented assisted soft tissue mobilization to improve pain, function, or range of motion in healthy individuals or those with varied pathologies”.