If you’re suffering from a sports injury, an overuse impairment or chronic pain, it can be helpful to consider therapy in the form of Active Release Technique (ART) to alleviate the pain and restore your range of motion.

How Does Active Release Therapy Work?

Active Release Technique is a method of non-invasive manual therapy that combines manipulation and movement to correct soft tissue injuries that restrict movement and cause pain.

Tissues are subject to negative changes from trauma. ART is employed to break down scar tissue and adhesions in your body, promoting blood flow and healing to affected areas. Scar tissue can be binding, causing your muscles and joints to feel painful and stiff.

ART treats issues with muscles; tendons, which connect muscle to bone; ligaments, which connect bone to bone; fascia, the fibrous tissue that supports and protects and supports muscles and organs; and nerves.

The History of Active Release Technique

Active Release Technique is a treatment method that was developed in the 1980s by a chiropractic doctor, Michael Leahy, who was frustrated by the slow pace and inefficiency of traditional means for healing soft tissues, especially for Olympic athletes who needed quick results in order to return to competition. In 2001, he was granted a patent for his soft tissue treatment system. Physiotherapists, chiropractors and others must receive training and certification to become ART practitioners.

ART for Soft Tissue Injuries

ART has proven to be successful for a variety of soft tissue injuries where scar tissue has accumulated. Some of the signs that you may have a buildup of scar tissue include increased pain when exercising; reduced flexibility and limited range of motion; inflamed joints; decreased strength; and tingling, numbness or weakness.

Scar tissue is part of the body’s normal response to healing. It’s a dense, fibrous material that forms as a result of injury to connect and bind injured tissue. Unfortunately, it isn’t as flexible as normal tissue. As a result, muscles can weaken and shorten and nerves can become entrapped, leading to pain and dysfunction. ART can relieve pain and restore function to the affected areas.

Common Conditions Treated by ART

ART practitioners use this technique to address acute injuries, such as tears and sprains; chronic trauma, such as ongoing lower back pain; overuse trauma, such as repetitive strain injuries; and post-operative cases. It is ideal for people with overworked muscles. Some of the common conditions treated by ART include neck pain, runner’s knee, golf or tennis elbow, tendinitis, frozen shoulder, sciatica and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Diagnosis and Treatment

An ART practitioner will use his/her hands to discover anomalies in tissue texture, tension and movement to pinpoint the cause of the problem. Once the problem is identified, your physiotherapist or other ART practitioners will employ ART treatment protocols to restore the tissue’s proper function and relieve pain. This is done by working with the tissue while it is in an active position, applying hands-on tension.

The patient may be required to move the affected area/body part to achieve full release. The experience is reminiscent of massage, combined with movement and stretching. However, your physiotherapist will focus on targeted contact points, rather than using broad strokes.

ART can be intense because it involves precise pressure. Although it may be uncomfortable, it generally yields results in five sessions or fewer.

Post-Treatment Exercises

Once a patient is treated with ART and the restrictive adhesions have been broken up, it’s important to prevent the symptoms from recurring. The patient needs to take an active role in prevention by doing exercises that address four fundamental areas:

  • Strength: Strengthening exercises are most valuable once adhesions and scar tissue have been treated, because any attempt to strengthen shortened and contracted muscles may lead to further restriction.
  • Flexibility: Flexibility refers to allowing for full range of motion, and it is specific to a particular joint. A patient may have full range of motion in the shoulders, but be constricted at the knees. Stretching done prior to ART won’t actually reach the affected area and may lead to further biomechanical imbalances. Stretching once ART is complete is essential.
  • Balance and Proprioception: Proprioception exercises are designed to restore a patient’s kinesthetic awareness, allowing the body to react appropriately to external forces. They form the foundation for the strength, endurance and agility needed for complete rehabilitation.
  • Cardiovascular: Aerobic exercise increases blood flow and oxygen delivery to soft tissues. Poor circulation and lack of oxygen accelerate repetitive strain injuries.

Why Active Release Technique?

ART is unique among treatment modalities because it involves more than 500 specific manual therapy techniques that target restrictions in various soft tissues. There are no known side effects and most conditions are restored in five sessions or fewer.

Suffering from a sports injury, an overuse impairment or chronic pain?