Introduction to ART

Active Release Techniques is a recently developed method of addressing soft tissue adhesions and dysfunction. ART has been developed, refined, and patented by P. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP. Dr. Leahy noticed that his patients’ symptoms seemed to be related to changes in their soft tissue that could be felt by hand. By observing how muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and nerves responded to different types of work, Dr. Leahy was able to consistently resolve over 90% of his patients’ problems. He now teaches and certifies health care providers all over the world to use ART.

What is ART?

ART is a patented, state of the art soft tissue system/movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Headaches, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, and tennis elbow are just a few of the many conditions that can be resolved quickly and permanently with ART. These conditions all have one important thing in common: they are often a result of overused muscles.

How do overuse conditions occur?

Over-used muscles (and other soft tissues) change in three important ways:

  • Ÿ acute conditions (pulls, tears, collisions, etc)
  • Ÿ accumulation of small tears (micro-trauma)
  • Ÿ not getting enough oxygen (hypoxia)

Each of these factors can cause your body to produce tough, dense scar tissue in the affected area. This scar tissue binds up and ties down tissues that need to move freely. As scar tissue builds up, muscles become shorter and weaker, tension on tendons causes tendonitis, and nerves can become trapped. This can cause reduced range of motion, loss of strength, and pain. If a nerve is trapped you may also feel tingling, numbness, and weakness.

How do I know if I have a problem?

Our bodies are very adaptable. They have to be to survive. Our bodies protect us from causing ourselves further damage with pain signals, and then repairs any damaged areas with scar tissue. Very often we think we are “better” after the pain goes away, however, what sometimes happens is that as the damaged area “healed” up with scar tissue, it created a secondary problem between two unrelated tissues (like two separate muscles, or a muscle and a nerve) causing them to become “stuck” together!  This is called an “ADHESION”.  You probably will not be aware of a problem until a later date, possibly years from the original injury! You can recognize adhesion problems by loss of function.

Loss of function could be a decreased range of motion, weakness, stiffness, soreness and many other symptoms that some refer to as simply “getting older”. More accurately it might simply be due to “getting stuck to yourself”!

What are Adhesions?

Our bodies contain special proteins called connective tissue. This connective tissue, which is also known as “fascia”, is the bodies only continuous system that links us together. It is the most widely distributed tissue in the body. It is a comprehensive, three-dimensional web-like structure which supports, separates and infiltrates every structure in the human body. It surrounds every muscle, nerve, bone, blood vessel and organ in the body. Like a sheet of saran-wrap covering each and every structure in your body it can influence movement patterns, blood flow and even cellular nutrition, as nutrients must be able to pass through it. When this tissue is healthy it is smooth and slippery, allowing muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs to move freely across one another and to function properly. Imagine a piece of scotch tape, the smooth side is healthy fascia, the sticky side is unhealthy fascia. Unhealthy fascia is found in scar tissue and adhesions. Imagine rubbing the tape along your skin, the smooth side is normal, the sticky side would give you an idea of what an
adhesion feels like. The drag you feel with the sticky side, that “pulling” sensation, is what an adhesion is like. These adhesions form between muscles and other soft tissues, and as I’m sure you can imagine, will decrease their ability to function properly. Adhesions involving Nerve Tissue are especially easy to identify as you will get many abnormal sensations such as numbness, tingling, burning and pain.

What’s the difference between ART and Massage?

While they may look and sound similar, the procedures are actually quite different. There are many types of massage, but generally massage promotes relaxation and circulation. Neuromuscular massage gets more specific but often does not fix the soft tissues and make them work properly. ART is soft-tissue treatment aimed at manually breaking down adhesions, the scar tissue that entraps muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The “art” of it all is being able to  know specifically where to look for the adhesions, how to feel for
them and how to use active motion of the body to break them up. Active motion sets ART apart from most other soft tissue manipulation techniques.

To break up an adhesion, you must place your thumb or fingers on it, feel for it, and make it move in a way that effectively breaks it away from the other affected tissues.  This requires an intimate knowledge of the tissue orientation and relative motions required to gain the release. ART provides your doctor with specific protocols for the identification and correction of adhesions and scar tissue. In fact, there are 105 separate protocols in the arm alone!

Anyone who has experienced ART can tell you… it is NOT massage!!!

Is there a difference between ART and Graston?

While both techniques are designed to break down adhesions the largest difference is that ART is performed using the HANDS and not a tool made of stainless steel. This allows your doctor to actually feel the relative motion of the various layers of tissues being treated, not just sense the “roughness” of the tissues being rubbed across. There are a few areas of especially deep and fibrotic tissues where the Graston tool would benefit the doctor in that it might be easier on the doctors hands, however, an experienced ART practitioner knows how to use leverage and alternate hand contacts to gain the same level of release as a Graston practitioner might achieve. It is also very rare that an ART session leaves any bruising on a client, whereas it is almost guaranteed after a Graston session. And when it comes to treating NERVE ENTRAPMENTS, nothing compares to the effectiveness of ART!

How do I know if someone provides ART?

“Active Release? Oh yeah I do that, it’s like myofascial release right?” Oh really? Ask to see the provider certificates signed by Dr. Leahy. Many practitioners may say they do, when actually they do not, and someone who only has limited knowledge and training in ART will not do you justice if you are truly in need of help which a experienced ART provider could provide for you!

Proficiency in ART takes a long time to develop. Training is hands-on. The right touch is the most difficult to learn, as Dr. Leahy says, “It’s as simple as playing a piano, and just as difficult”.

What is an ART treatment like?

Every ART session is actually a combination of examination and treatment. The ART provider uses his or her hands to evaluate the texture, tightness and movement of muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Abnormal tissues are treated by combining precisely directed tension with very specific patient movements. These treatment protocols – over 500 specific moves – are unique to ART. They allow providers to identify and correct the specific problems that are affecting each individual patient. ART is definitely NOT a cookie-cutter approach!

Treatments can sometimes be uncomfortable during the movement phase as scar tissue, or adhesions, “break up”.  This is temporary and subsides almost immediately after treatment. It is common to feel a duplication of your symptoms during treatment, a good indication that the true problem has been identified. Treatments are about 5 to 15 minutes per area treated and vary in number from 2 to 10 visits typically. Chiropractic adjustments are frequently done in addition to the ART (not an absolute requirement) to further address
the kinetic chain dysfunctions often found in these types of conditions.

Will my condition return after treatment?

Usually the changes are permanent, but ultimately the answer depends on your compliance with recommendations for after-care. “If you keep doing the things that got you there, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting” is a fitting statement here! This is especially true for those suffering from Cumulative Trauma or Repetitive Strain Injuries. To not alter the patterns that developed your injury will only cause the problem to recur. Following your Provider’s recommendations for activity modification, stretching and exercise will provide best results.

ŸWhat conditions can ART help?Ÿ

  • Achilles Tendonitis                              * Ankle Injuries
  • Back Pain                                               * Bursitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome                   *  Deep Muscle Pain
  • DeQuervain’s Tenosynovitis              * Elbow Injuries
  • Foot Pain and Injury                           *  Frozen Shoulder
  • Gait Imbalances                                   *  Golfer’s Elbow
  • Golf Injuries                                          *  Hand Injuries
  • Headaches                                             *  Hip Pain
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome                   *  Impingement Syndromes
  • Joint Pain and Stiffness (Arthritis)  *  Knee and Leg Pain
  • Muscle Pulls or Strains                       *  Neck Pain
  • Plantar Fasciitis                                   *  Post-Surgical Rehabilitation
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries                   *  Rotator Cuff Injuries
  • Running Injuries                                  *  Scar Tissue Formation
  • Sciatica                                                   *  Shin Splints
  • Shoulder Pain                                       *  Sports Injuries
  • Swimmers Shoulder                            *  Tennis Elbow
  • TMJ                                                         *  Weight Lifting Injuries
  • Whiplash Injuries (old and new)      *  Wrist Injuries

The list goes on and on… so, as you can see, if you think you have “tried it all and nothing has worked”, you probably haven’t had ART!