One of the major points that I wanted to get across in my new online program teaching you instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization is that the tools do not need to be expensive to start using IASTM.
There are a wide variety of different tools that you can buy to perform IASTM, ranging from $5 to several thousands of dollars!
Luckily for you, it doesn’t have to be expensive to get started using IASTM! Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely get what you pay for with the different tools, however price should not be an issue that limits your ability to start using IASTM. If you have $5, you can start performing IASTM.
Over the last several years I have tried almost every IASTM tool on the market. There are many great ones. I am going to review several tools that I personally use and recommend. I am going to start from cheapest to most expensive and overview the pros and cons of each. When people are not sure IASTM is for them, I recommend starting with a cheap tool. Once you get the hang of it and see the many benefits, you’ll definitely want to upgrade.
Consider this article your resource to choosing the best IASTM tool.
Buffalo horn is probably the cheapest and easiest way to get started with IASTM. It is easy to find on the internet, cheap, lightweight, and effective. If you are new to IASTM or just want to test it out, this is a great tool to begin with while being very budget friendly. It doesn’t feel or resonate very well, the more expensive tools feel SO MUCH better, but buffalo horn is certainly an acceptable material to use for your first IASTM tool. Certainly not the best option but I would rather you use a $5 tool than not perform IASTM at all. if budget is your primary concern, start here, otherwise move down the list!
Jade is a gemstone and a definite step up from buffalo horn. They come in many different colors, though there does not seem to be a big difference in quality between the colors. I also like the shape in the image to the right, which gives you a few useful edges. Jade tools are heavier than buffalo horn, but also more slippery if you get too much lubricant on the tool. They certainly resonate more than buffalo horn but still not nearly as much as the higher cost tools, such as stainless steel. Jade is more fragile than buffalo horn, so keep this in mind. It isn’t the best if you are worried you are not going to be able to protect it well. It is an option and another good beginner tool, but you’ll want to upgrade soon.
I would put Bian a mild step up from Jade. They tend to be smooth but not shiny, so have a better grip to it. I feel it resonates more than jade or horn, and actually have a decent feel to them, but again nothing like stainless steel. Although not the cheapest, these are a great low-cost option and work well. You will certainly feel a difference between these and the cheaper tools above. These also are more fragile than other tools and should be protected like jade. Don’t drop them! Considering the mild increase in cost and the fragility of the stones, I again say this is a good beginner tool, but you’ll likely want to upgrade soon.
The next class of tools takes a step up and now includes plastic, or polycarnonate tools. These tools are more durable than all of the above tools and tend to be custom shaped based specifically for manual therapy. The shapes also tend to be larger, which is a good thing. I prefer polycarbonate tools over the above natural tools for their durability.
There is a clear winner in polycarbonate tools in my mind, the Dolphin by IAM Tools, based in the UK. This is a “training” version of their stainless steel dolphin tool, but trust me, this is not just a training tool. I love the shape, edges, and ability to grip. Plus it is a bit larger than the above tools so you can work many different body parts. This a good tool, but still nothing like stainless steel.
Last but certainly not least are the stainless steel tools. Let’s get this out-of-the-way first – stainless steel tools are by far the best tools for IASTM. I definitely feel everyone should have at least one stainless steel tool if they are serious about IASTM.
You can’t compare the feel, resonation, durability, or even the weight. I like a tool with a little weight to it. Stainless isn’t perfect. My number one issue is often related to grip as stainless steel can get VERY slippery during a session. That is why the tools I use tend to have some feature that enhances the grip. It is also easier to be aggressive with a stainless steel tool, so if you want to be gentle with someone, I would recommend using a different tool, at least initially.
There are two tools that you should highly consider.
The first is the EDGE tool. Think of this as the Swiss Army Knife of IASTM tools. It has a bunch of different edges and a great ability to grip using the middle hole. At only $100, it is pretty hard to compete and is often most people’s first stainless steel tool. It is a pretty versatile tool, especially if you use it in combination with some of the larger Hawk Grip tools, as described below.
Lastly, another great stainless steel option is a set of tools from Hawk Grips. If the EDGE tool is the Swiss Army knife of IASTM tools, the Hawk Grips tools are the entire top-of-the-line Craftsman tool set! These tools look really, really, familiar, right? They are based off the most popular stainless steel tools on the market but Hawk Grips are actually better than those tools! They added a nice hash grip surface on each that really makes a big difference.
Hawk Grips offers a huge variety of tools, including my favorite the HG8 and the VERY popular HG1 handlebar tool. There are also a lot of smaller tools designed to treat every body part. These tools are more expensive, but are quality. If you are looking for an entire set of tools and a version of IASTM tools just like the most popular ones, this is for you. If you are not interested in the whole package, they sell the tools individually so you can slowly build your set as your budget allows
What is the Best IASTM Tool?
I don’t think there is a clear winner for each and every person. If you treat a lot of athletes, you may want the Hawk Grip tools as they are larger and have a great variety. If you just treat hands and wrists all day, you may want a smaller tool. If you just have $100 to spend, the EDGE tool may be for you.
In all honestly, I use several tools together, and I bet you will too. Start with what looks best for you right now, even if just a piece of horn, and as you see the benefits of IASTM start to expand your collection. I have every tool on this list and I actually use all of them based on my goals, different clients, and body parts
Learn IASTM Technique
If you are new to IASTM or looking for more advanced techniques, check out my online education program teaching IASTM. It’s a great program to show you how and why I use IASTM. I show you everything you need to know to start using IASTM. It’s effective, easy to learn, and affordable to start using.