Active Release Techniques: Comprehensive Soft Tissue Therapy

A patented system of physical therapy examinations and treatments, Active Release Techniques, or ART, is used to address various soft tissue disorders ranging from common aches and pains to sports-related injuries or chronic conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. Developed in 1988 by chiropractor Dr. P. Michael Leahy, ART sessions employ a broad set of over 500 techniques involving directed tension and patient movements to soothe soft tissues and restore normal function.

What Are the Effects of Injury on Soft Tissues?

Whether caused by an acute injury like a pull or tear or by chronic overuse and repeated stress, muscle damage leads to the formation of scar tissue in place of normal muscle tissue. Fibrous and dense, scar tissue works its way through healthy soft tissues and impedes movement. Muscles lose flexibility and strength, tendons suffer from increased tension, and nerves get tangled and trapped. Over time, this results in chronic pain, loss of strength, and reduced range of motion, all detrimental to daily function and physical performance alike. Trapped nerves compound this with tingling or numbness caused by a loss of sensation.

How Does ART Work?

Various physical conditions and disorders from the minor to the severe have a common root cause: damage to muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, as well as fascia, the elastic connective tissue that wraps around and supports most structures in the body. ART functions as a form of myofascial release, a type of therapy for pain and dysfunction in muscles that are intended to ease tension and promote healthy function and range of motion.

This therapy uses a combination of precise tension delivered by the provider and particular stretches or movements performed by the patient. Together, these allow the provider to examine and test the patient’s physical capabilities to identify specific soft tissue problems, which can then be treated by stimulation of the affected tissues.

What Can ART Treat?

ART can provide relief and restoration of physical function to patients suffering from aches, stiffness, pulled muscles or ligaments, and similar problems. ART providers are trained to identify and correct such conditions in the shoulders, hips, wrists, knees, elbows, and feet, regions of the body where common use makes muscles and joints vulnerable. Conditions can include, but are not limited to:

  • Frozen shoulder and rotator cuff problems

  • Biceps or patellar tendonitis

  • Tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow

  • Hamstring strains, sciatica and “IT band”

  • Achilles heel problems and carpal tunnel syndrome

Who Can Benefit From ART?

Soft tissue damage can occur in anyone. Athletes from baseball and tennis players to marathoners and swimmers can sustain injury in an accident or strain themselves too much with repeated motions and constant stress. More casual exercisers, whether yoga practitioners or weekend warriors who enjoy a run through the neighborhood, run similar risks. Even a sedentary lifestyle or job can induce soft tissue disorders from neglect, improper posture, poor work conditions, or long periods of sitting in one place.

There are many soft tissue issues that can affect one’s quality of life. Professional athletes, health-conscious exercisers, and desk job workers alike all may have to grapple with these conditions, and ART can help all of them, by establishing specific treatment plans to address particular problems and needs.