Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization: Effects on Ankle Range of Motion and Functional Movement Screen Scores in Collegiate Rugby Players

Gage Nathaniel Berry, Clemson University


Given the high obesity rates and the prevalence of preventable health conditions, medical officials, researchers and practitioners have encouraged the public to engage in physical activity. Although much attention has been placed on being active, the leisure field has given less attention to preventing injuries associated with physical activity. In sport, ankle injuries are prevalent, and may occur due to deficits in joint range of motion (ROM) and stability. Deficits in movement become apparent when subjects perform the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). Consequently, the purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM), a manual therapy technique, on ankle ROM and FMS scores. An experimental design was used, and 27 healthy men's club rugby players participated. After the preliminary weight-bearing lunge screening test, subjects were randomized into two groups (i.e., attention control and treatment). The treatment group received eight IASTM sessions on their gastrocnemius/soleus complex in combination with stretching of the calves over a four-week period; the attention control group was assigned solely to stretching. Of the seven FMS tests' final scores, three (i.e., deep squat, in-line lunge, and active straight leg raise) exhibited a significant difference between pre- and post-intervention scores in the treatment group, meaning that those in the group experienced improved movement quality. There was also a significant difference in the weight-bearing lunge test scores for both the treatment and attention control groups. Right and left side scores increased for both groups, implicating that both static stretching alone and coupled with IASTM improved ankle dorsiflexion measures. The study results indicated that there is a positive association between IASTM and FMS and ankle dorsiflexion ROM scores. However, the treatment group did not seem to do better than the attention control, as post-intervention measurements between the two groups were not significantly different. Therefore, it would be beneficial for the leisure field to further investigate IASTM and conventional static stretching as means of improving movement quality and mobility in recreational athletes including community gym members, youth sport participants and university club sport/intramural athletes.