Relieving tight muscles and trigger points can make a big difference in reducing joint stress and improving your overall quality of life. That’s why you should consider active release technique (ART). It can help turn on muscles that have been turned off due to injury and eliminate muscular pain.
What Is Active Release Technique (ART)?
ART was first patented by P. Michael Leahy, a certified chiropractic sports physician who created his signature method to treat patients dealing with a wide array of chronic pains or injuries. ART is similar to deep tissue massage techniques and myofascial release (although it definitely has its differences) because it works by manipulating soft tissue, thereby reducing the stress placed on joints and nerves.
The conditions that ART is used to help treat naturally, often without the use of medications, are those that affect fascia (connective tissue), major muscle groups, tendons and ligaments. Most are the result of overused muscles, which contribute to scar tissue formation, tears, pulls, strains and inflammation. The goal of active release technique is to restore normal mobility and “glide” between muscular tissue and nerves. It can also help push joint fluid throughout the body and stimulate the lymphatic system, which helps lower inflammation.
Some of the problems most commonly relieved through ART treatments include:
- Lower back pain
- Shin splints
- Plantar fascittis
- Tension headaches
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Shoulder strains, including frozen shoulder
- Tennis elbow
- Sciatic nerve pain/sciatica
Benefits of Active Release Technique
1. Increases Flexibility
By relaxing muscles naturally and reducing tough adhesions around muscles and joints, studies have demonstrated that even a single ART treatment session can help increase flexibility. This includes increasing flexibility in the legs, specifically the hamstrings, which tend to be a very tight area for even healthy, active adults and susceptible to recurring injuries.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that a single ART treatment helped 20 physically active male participants with no current or previous injuries to improve their scores on a sit-and-reach flexibility test. Following the treatment, the men on average experienced improved flexibility in the lower legs, which could translate to better protection against future injuries and even improved athletic performance.
2. Improves Range of Motion Following Injuries
Research shows that ART treatments can help improve range of motion and mobility in those with musculoskeletal disorders or following injuries (acute trauma) and episodes of chronic pain. Adults have a whopping 70 percent chance of developing neck pain during their lives, and ART is now considered to be beneficial for treating chronic neck pain that can be caused by work-related injuries, sports or exercise.
One study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science compared the influence of active release technique to joint mobilization (JM) in patients with chronic neck pain. Visual abilities, pain scores, pressure pain threshold and neck range of motion were measured in the study’s 24 participants before and after treatments. Patients were assigned to one of three groups: an ART group, a JM group and a control group.
Following treatments, both the ART group and JM group demonstrated significant changes in visual abilities and neck range of motion compared to the control group. The ART group was found to produce greater improvements overall in several of the markers compared to both the JM and control groups.
3. Reduces Chronic Lower Back Pain
One 2013 study conducted by the Korean Academy of Physical Therapy Rehabilitation Science found that ART helps lower symptoms of lower back pain, considered to be one of the leading sources of dysfunction among adults. Lower back pain has commonly been found to be triggered by abnormal activation and adhesions within the upper legs (specifically the gluteus medius), but ART can help break up scar tissue and release compressed nerves.
Twelve patients with chronic low back pain participated in this study and received ART treatments two times a week for three weeks, resulting in significantly lower pain intensity and pressure, according to a pain visual analogue scale.
4. Treats Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Findings from a small 2006 clinical pilot study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine suggest that active release technique can be an effective treatment strategy for patients with carpal tunnel syndrome, which results in limited hand mobility and often swelling or pain due to nerve compression. Patients first completed a questionnaire and examination to assess their symptoms, then received active release technique treatments using a protocol intended to affect the median nerve of the hands three times a week for two weeks. Following treatment, patients reported significant improvements in symptom severity and showed increases in functional status scores compared to the start of the study.
5. Helps Prevent Running Injuries and Improve Performance
There’s no evidence that ART treatments can help promote faster muscle recovery and improve running or athletic performance. According to Competitor.com, ART is considered “one of the fastest roads to recovery” by serious athletes. It does this by helping restore normal muscle and connective tissue function, keeping the body flexible, and reducing fibrous tissue accumulation, which can go unnoticed in training athletes.
It’s possible for runners, athletes who perform triathlons and those who are training for professional competitions to miss signs of adhesions before it’s too late. This can cause tightening and shortening of muscles that wind up taking an athlete off the field due to limited mobility and strength loss.