What is Active Release Technique (ART) ®?
Active release is a technique system that allows practitioners to diagnose and treat soft tissue injuries in a case-by-case, hands on manner. The term ‘soft tissue’ refers to a number of tissues, mainly muscle, tendon, fascia, and nerves. Some general categories of injuries that can be treated with ART ® include repetitive strains, adhesions, tissue hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and joint dysfunction. When the soft tissues are injured, and subsequently repaired, the changes are predictable and palpable.
In order to gain some insight into what soft tissue injuries are, it is necessary to understand the cumulative injury cycle. Cumulative injuries have rapidly become a major problem to plague the workforce and general population in North America. Cumulative injury disorder is a group of injuries to muscles, tendons, bones, blood vessels, fascia, and/or nerves. This disorder can arise from acute (sudden) injury, repetitive injury, or something as simple as constant pressure or tension. With acute injuries, micro tears in the muscle or fascia due to trauma immediately result in inflammation. If these injuries are not treated correctly, the cumulative injury cycle starts.
With respect to repetitive strain injuries such as typing, working with vibration, or a constant and unchanging posture (working at a computer), the number of repetitions of specific movements as well as the tension throughout the muscles is high with little relaxation time. This leads to muscles that are weak and tight, and therefore painful.
Finally, when it comes to constant pressure or tension, such as an unchanging posture at a computer, assembly line work or driving, it is a lack of circulation that leads to pain and inhibits our bodies from healing. All this inflammation and decreased circulation leads to adhesions; quite literally, our tissues stick together. Muscles and nerves that are meant to slide past one another when we move, stick to each other instead, causing pain that can be shooting, burning, tingling, or aching, as well as weakness, numbness, and decreased/abnormal range of motion. When this happens, our muscles become even more weak and tight, which leads to more inflammation and less circulation and the cycle continues. This self-perpetuating cycle is exactly how cumulative injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, thoracic outlet syndrome and many others are initiated.
How do we stop the cycle? Practitioners certified in ART® are experts in identifying the specific soft tissues that are damaged. This is accomplished with a thorough history and physical examination. By identifying faulty movement patterns, practitioners can deduce precisely which soft tissues are injured. Further, ART® certified practitioners are trained to use their hands to detect altered tissue texture which is the hallmark of injured soft tissues.
An ART® treatment involves the practitioner taking a very specific contact on the injured tissue and drawing in under tension. Next, the practitioner will move the patient, or will have the patient move their body through a specific range of motion to take the tissue from a shortened position to a lengthened one, thereby releasing the adhesions and restoring the proper range of motion. It is very important that this motion is performed slowly, and within the patient’s and the tissue’s tolerance to ensure maximum benefit from the treatment. One can expect to experience results from ART® within 1-3 treatments over the span of a week, allowing a day between treatments for tissues to recover.
Practitioners that are certified in ART® have spent weeks studying the technique in preparation for a 4 day hands-on seminar, after which they are tested to ensure they are competent. Certified practitioners are required to attend one course every year in order to continue to learn and to perfect their technique. There are numerous seminars that cover the entire body in great detail.
ART® is an extremely safe, accurate and effective method of treatment for everyone from the elite athlete to the weekend warrior.
Leahy, M.P. Active Release Techniques® Soft-Tissue Management System. 2008