Research shows that soft tissue mobilisation can be effective in releasing constricted muscles, alleviating musculoskeletal pain, and restoring flexibility to the joints, ligaments, and tendons of the body.
Many therapists and athletes can perform this type of procedure using their hands and fingers, however, using an Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilisation (IASTM) tool can make this job a whole lot easier.
There is a range of different tools that can perform IASTM, and they’re typically made with stainless steel.
Some are oriented toward one body part, and others aim to tackle different parts with one tool.
They’re typically made of stainless steel or stone, making them sanitary, easy to clean, smooth and firm enough to penetrate muscle tissue with minimal force applied.
Some IASTM tools are called “gua sha” tools (Gua sha comes from traditional Chinese medicine, in which skin scraping was practised to move stagnant blood and stimulate health).
In this post, I’ll compare 10 of the best muscle-scraping tools on the market and help you find the best tool for you.
How Do IASTM Tools Work?
In a healthy system, muscles are able to move around while relaxed, as the fascia around the muscle keeps it lubricated.
When the fascia becomes tightened and fibrous, it can create muscle adhesions, making you susceptible to chronic pain, and more injury-prone. .
Two popular techniques that clinicians and massage therapists use for myofascial release massage are instrument assisted fascias mobilization (IAFM) and instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM).
Both techniques employ special tools that are designed to target different areas of the body where the fascia (the smooth layer of connective tissue that surrounds the muscular system and other organs) is constricted.
Below is a brief description of each technique.
- IAFM – This technique focuses on releasing restrictions in the superficial and deep layers of the fascia in order to restore power and range of motion to the muscles, joints, and ligaments. IAFM is performed by physical therapists, osteopaths, and chiropractors, with the aid of a variety of curved metal instruments that are designed to break up muscle adhesions and scar tissue.
- IASTM – This technique, also called the Graston technique, is a newer type of treatment that focuses on improving soft tissue mobility. To perform IASTM, clinicians and therapists use a variety of smooth, metal “blades” to create deep pressure and encourage blood flow in areas of the body that are affected by soft tissue dysfunction and chronic inflammation.
While further research on the therapeutic effectiveness of IAFM and IASTM is needed, research suggests that IASTM can help improve soft tissue function and range of movement as well as reduce pain in those suffering from acute or chronic sports injuries.
Features to Look At When Choosing a Muscle Scraping Tool
When shopping for an IASTM tool, here are some factors to consider:
Considering soft tissue is all over your body, the ideal IASTM tool has an all-in-one design for versatility.
While some tools are more one-dimensional, others feature multiple edges and even a sphere tip for pinpoint trigger point release.
Look for an IASTM tool that can tackle both tiny crevices between tendons, as well as large smooth muscle surfaces.
Each tool is designed to be used in a different manner, so it’s important to consider how the tool will be used.
Generally speaking, sharper edges offer more precision, while blunt edges are better for treating larger areas of the body.
The material an IASTM tool is made with affects its weight and the feel on your skin.
Some are made of stainless steel, stone and other materials.
Sanitation is also a factor, so be sure your tool is made of non-porous material.
Grip is a major factor affecting an IASTM tool’s ease of use.
If it hurts your fingers as you grip it, then fatigue will prevent you from getting the tissue release you need.
Some tools are 2-dimensional, and the flat hard grip becomes painful when you’re using it on yourself.
Tools that are 3-dimensional are easier to grip, and some have a special ergonomic grip enabling you to hold the tool in your fist.
This can help you better control the tool and use its edges more intuitively.
Another important consideration when choosing a myofascial release tool is the number of bevelled edges it has.
Single-bevelled tools provide deeper penetration but they can only be used in one direction.
Double-bevelled edges are more versatile in that they can be used in any direction, but they provide less penetration.
When it comes to quality, not all IASTM tools are equal.
Generally, the less expensive tools are less effective than the more expensive ones.
Furthermore, many lower quality tools only have one bevelled edge, limiting the versatility of the tool.
The Best Muscle Scraping Tools in 2023
In this section, I’ll review the best IASTM tools based on price, ease of use, and overall customer satisfaction.
Myofascial Releaser Ellipse Pro
The Myofascial Releaser Ellipse Pro is made of stainless steel and it’s used sometimes with cream or emollient to stroke the surface of a muscle and release the fascia.
This tool features three holes your fingers can use to grip the tool as you move it along your body.
It’s made to model what masseuses hands attempt to do for small areas of muscle and connective tissue, but it’s able to do it better due to the thin edge and firm steel material.
It has a small knob at the end for digging into tissue like a massage head.
The product comes with a manual that instructs you through how to release different muscle groups using the tool, and you can access video tutorials online.
It also comes with a jar of emollient.
The main complaint users have with this tool is that it’s overpriced.
Others complain it’s too difficult to use as a self-myofascial release tool, and that it requires a professional’s work.
On the other hand, those who do have experience say it’s a highly effective and versatile IASTM tool.
Ergo Myofascial Releaser Tool
In the same price range as the Ellipse Pro, the Ergo Myofascial Releaser is also made of stainless steel and comes with an anatomy guidebook for use.
It features a sphere at the tip for pressure-point massage, making it quite versatile for full-body use.
Instead of 3 finger holes for gripping the tool like the Ellipse Pro, it has one handlebar grip you hold.
Unfortunately, it’s not a one-size-fits-all tool, as those with larger hands may find it too small to grip comfortably.
However, many users appreciate being able to grip the tool with their fist because of the power and control it grants you.
On the other hand, even professional users have complained the intensity of this tool is quite strong due to the thin, sharp edge.
Therefore, keep in mind it’s not a beginner’s tool and is designed for advanced therapeutic treatment.
Bian Stone Gua Sha Massage Tool
This Gua Sha tool is made of natural Bian stone, which is softer than stainless steel and moves smoothly on skin.
This is a package that includes 4 different shaped tools.
It’s a great tool for scraping to release the surface of fascia and quickly boost circulation.
However, there’s no sphere or node for trigger-point release, so it’s not the most versatile tool on the list.
Another major problem is that it’s breakable when dropped, so it’s less durable than a metal tool.
Still, most users consider it a great value for the money.
It’s smooth and can be used on the face, so if you’re new to gua sha tools and IASTM, this is an affordable product you can’t go wrong with.
IASTM Fascia Massager Tool
The Allshow Gua Sha is a small tool with two edges made with stainless steel.
It doesn’t have a handle-type grip, and it’s two-dimensional, so it’s less comfortable for your hand to hold.
Still, it costs less than the Ellipse Pro and Ergo Myofascial Releaser, but can be used for both scraping and trigger point release.
The medium blunt edge is designed for deep tissue penetration, and the convex and concave edges provide different fits for different body parts.
It has a small ball at one of its ends that you can use to compress trigger points and dig into tiny pockets between muscles or tendons.
Stickton K-Shaped Soft Tissue Tool
Whereas the Ergo Myofascial Releaser is too small for large hands and others are uncomfortable to hold, users say the Stickton tool solves the problem of holding a hard, two-dimensional edge.
This tool’s ergonomic design curves with your fingers so the edge of the tool doesn’t dig into them.
The Stickton tool also has curved edges for digging into trigger points, too.
Users say they effectively can use this between small ligaments and hidden pockets on muscles where tension is trapped.
Users say the painless grip and ergonomic balance of the product’s weight make it easy to control for effective myofascial release.
Not only is it light, but it’s also small and portable measuring just 4.5 x 4.5 inches.
Customers have reported that this tool works well and comes at a good price.
The Wave Tool
The Wave tool is made with a unique plastic material made with nylon and glass, which makes it durable and firm without the price tag of medical grade stainless steel.
It has different sized edges with different angles for different feels.
You get access to instructional videos online to learn ways you can apply the various edges.
Users found this tool to be highly versatile and ergonomic to hold thanks to its 3D design.
Customers who are less happy with the tool have complained about its material, which feels less smooth gliding on skin when used for scraping.
The company may also have a quality control problem, because some users have received Wave tools with sharp edges not sanded down for smoothness.
Overall, the tool packs a lot of value given its price and versatility, as well as durability.
Gua Sha Tool by Cutemedi
CUTEMEDI makes 17 different types of gua sha tools, all made with stainless steel and bevelled edges for a firm, quality feel.
The type you may choose depends on whether you want a tool with a grip for versatile self-use, or if you have a particular area of muscle tissue in mind.
For example, if you have an injured shoulder or Achilles tendon, you’ll want to choose a tool with a shape that fits the area.
Like the Stickton, the ST014 type has a grip your fingers can hold.
In fact, you can hold it from one side or the other, to use a convex edge or concave edge.
The ST008 Type is more 3-dimensional, too, with one finger hole to grip and edges with different angles for different soft tissue areas.
The ST013 Type is also 3-dimensional, with a bar handle you hold and a point on either side that works like a massage head to mobilize soft tissue.
The ST003 is more like a massage stick, and many of the other types are 2-dimensional scraping tools with various shapes.
CUTEMEDI’s tools are quality-made and highly effective. Comparable to expensive models, these ones pack a lot of value for the price.
Because they’re made of stainless steel, they can be slippery to grip and control, especially when using oil. Some users have complained the tools need rubbery grips or ridges for this reason.
Overall, however, customers previously experienced with IASTM have commented that CUTEMEDI’s tools provide the same quality as its more expensive competitors.
H-Brotaco Stainless Steel Gua Sha Tool
The H-Broctaco is made with medical-grade stainless steel but is more affordable than most stainless steel IASTM tools.
However, it’s two-dimensional, with no grip, with a shape comparable to the Bian Stone gua sha tool.
It’s ideal mostly for scraping, especially when someone else uses two hands to scrape along smooth muscle for you.
Still, you can use the edges to massage in crevices and between tendons and muscles, such as on your shoulder when you cross your arm over to reach it.
You can also use both hands to mobilize soft tissue on your legs when you sit down.
If you have adhesions, this tool may not pack the intensity you need. In fact, some customers complained this is a “knockoff” or “fake” product because it’s so lightweight and flimsy.
The truth is, the stainless steel material is flat and thin, offering a sharp edge but not a good grip for controlling it.
The Original Myofascial Releaser Tool
Like the Ellipse Pro, the Original Myofascial Releaser tool is made of stainless steel and has 3 holes for your fingers. It features a triangle shape with multiple edges for targeting different muscles.
Users appreciate the ability to switch intensities by switching the edge they use, as one is convex and the other concave.
The round tip that acts as a tiny massage ball is also a feature users like, which makes it versatile.
The product comes with an anatomy guidebook with instructions for use throughout your body, as well as a zippered carrying case for safekeeping.
The major problem users have is that the finger holes cause fatigue and pain, and they’re too large for smaller hands.
Others find their hand fits the holes perfectly and that the grip gives them great control when using slippery oils.
Whether you’re new to IASTM or you’ve had a professional’s help and are ready to start at home, a toolset can offer you the chance to try out what works best for you.
Whereas some products focus on making the best all-in-one tool, Zuka Tools offers a set with 4 IASTM tools.
One has an S shape with two concave edges for scraping different-sized soft tissue areas.
There’s also a large tool with a single tool, and a long one comparable to a massage stick.
The major problem with the Zuka tools is that it lacks gripping, and with such flat, 2-D edges, it’s hard to keep firm control over the tool, especially when using ointment or oil.
The Best IASTM Tool: Recommendations
The Ergo Myofascial Release tool is top on our list because it has a grip handle allowing you to hold the edge in your fist for perfect control and precision.
Compared to other IASTM tools, this one is a lot more comfortable.
Due to the solid build and its balanced weight, you don’t have to apply much pressure to get tons of benefit from its various edges.
The small ball at the tip of the tool also makes it a winner for versatility because you can use the tool for scraping and trigger point therapy to mobilize soft tissue.
While the Ergo Myofascial Release tool is a great value for its versatility, durability and effectiveness, you can go a lot cheaper if you’re just wanting to try something new.
Types of IASTM Tools
Myofascial release tools are made from a variety of materials, including bian stone, buffalo horn, jade, and polycarbonate.
Steel myofascial release tools take various forms and shapes, but the most popular ones are bevelled edge tools, handlebar tools, and S-shaped tools
Bevelled Edge Tools
Bevelled edge tools are designed with hard edges that allow for deeper tissue penetration and more effective scar tissue separation.
There are two basic types of bevelled edge tools: single-bevelled and double bevelled.
- Single-bevelled tools are designed to be used in one direction and are ideal for use on larger areas of the body.
- Double-bevelled tools can be used in any direction and are ideal for use on smaller, more sensitive body parts.
Bevelled edge tools are available in many different shapes including blades, spoons, and handlebars.
This is a large, bar-shaped tool used to target larger areas of the lower body, such as the hamstrings and quads.
This instrument has handgrips on either side that help the practitioner apply deep pressure in order to break up muscle adhesions and scar tissue.
This tool is characterized by its S-curved shape. It is ideal for use on smaller areas of the body, such as the hands, wrists, and forearms, calves, and neck.
S-shaped myofascial release tools have two inlets – one with a single-bevelled edge and one with a double-bevelled edge – that allow the tool to be used on different body parts.
Benefits of Using IASTM Tools
By releasing muscular tightness and restrictive adhesions, IASTM benefits your body in several ways:
Tight fascia and muscle tissue cuts off circulation, but IASTM can help restore it. By penetrating and compressing fibrous muscle tissue, IASTM tools push out old blood and waste fluids from them.
New blood rushes in its wake and carries fresh oxygen and nutrients to help repair the tissue.
Myofascial release is linked to pain relief, and IASTM tools are highly effective in achieving myofascial release .
They help you work out painful adhesions and muscle knots, keeping your muscles lubricated and oxygenated.
Research also points to a neuromodulation effect, in which myofascial release tools lower pain perception in the brain by promoting hormonal balance .
Speeds Muscle Recovery
By boosting blood flow and releasing tightness in muscles and fascia, IASTM tools can help athletes increase the speed of recovery after workouts, and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
In fact, one study measured self-perceived muscle soreness within 48 hours after participants exercised strenuously.
It found that participants who used IASTM tools experienced significantly reduced muscle soreness compared to those who didn’t .
Helps Prevent Injury
Muscle adhesions increase your risk for injury by muscle or connective tissue to “catch” instead of flex freely.
Using IASTM tools before and after workouts lowers your risk for injuring yourself during or after physical activity.
Increases Your Range of Motion
By releasing your fascia, IASTM increases your range of motion.
The oxygen and nutrients required for muscle contraction and expansion become more available thanks to the boost in blood flow IASTM provides.
Plus, by working out knots and adhesions, you enable your muscles to move around the way they’re supposed to.
Using Your IASTM Tool
While instrument assisted myofascial release techniques are thought to be generally safe, there are a few safety precautions you should take when performing IAFM and IATSM at home.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when using myofascial release tools.
- If you feel pain, stop. Applying pressure on a muscle should produce feedback, but not pain. If you’re experiencing discomfort, stop and adjust your massage position.
- Learn how to use your tool. These tools must be used carefully as they can cause damage to the body. It is recommended to research how to perform myofascial release properly or choose a tool which comes with a manual.
- Don’t over massage. Experts recommend massaging the affected area for five minutes at one time.
- Remember, myofascial release is not right for everyone. Those with advanced diabetes, aneurysm, acute rheumatoid arthritis, or osteoporosis should consult with their physician before attempting myofascial release at home.
If you’re an athlete or you suffer from chronic pain, having a quality IASTM tool on-hand can keep your muscles healthy and pain at bay.
There are so many different tools, but selecting one that’s highly versatile or buying a set of tools is helpful for beginners to find what works.
As with using any tool on the body to relieve pain, you should proceed with caution and ensure you’re using it properly.
Tissue damage can result in more pain than what you started with, so always be gentle with yourself.
When performing instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilisation at home, investing in the right tools is key.
Use this guide as a starting point when researching and choosing the best IASTM tool for you.