Active Release Therapy (A.R.T.)

Active Release Therapy

I have been using A.R.T. since 2000 and up until 2009 was fully credentialed and an instructor for Active Release Technique. During the last 14 years of using A.R.T. I feel that it is one of the most powerful soft tissue therapies to have been developed and used in manual therapy. Almost every single patient will receive some form of A.R.T. in my treatment approach.

What Is It?

Active Release Therapy is a soft tissue technique used to treat scar tissue that can result in symptoms of numbness, tingling, burning and aching. The main purpose of A.R.T. is to re-establish motion of fascia found between muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and nerves. These adhesions and scar tissue are a result of when soft tissue structures are exposed to damaging forces. These forces usually come about in one of three different ways: a sudden or acute injury, a cumulative or chronic injury, or a pressure injury from external forces like poor posture.

These injuries cause restrictions of movement, blood flow, lymph flow, and nerve conduction. The adhesions may develop between the fascia (the covering of muscles), muscles themselves, muscles and bones, muscles and nerves, tendons and joints, and many other combinations involving the soft tissues of the neuromusculoskeletal system. These adhesions can decrease the soft tissue's own blood, lymph, and nerve supplies. When this occurs within muscle alone, it is usually the cause of the common trigger point and is often associated with chronic muscle pain.

Most patients' conditions will respond to A.R.T. therapy soon after treatment begins - many times significant improvement is attained on the first visit. This is incredible when you consider that most people with this type of injury can go an entire lifetime without relief.

How do I know if you have a problem?

Our bodies are very adaptable, they have to be to survive. Our bodies protect us from damage with pain signals and repair damaged areas with scar tissue. Very often, we think we are "better" after the pain goes away. However, what has happened is that the problem area has "healed" with scar tissue. You probably will not be aware of the problem until a later date, maybe years from the original injury. You can recognize adhesion problems by loss of function. Loss of function could be a decrease in range of motion, weakness, stiffness, soreness and many other symptoms that many like to call "getting older".

What are Adhesions?

Our bodies contain special protein structures called connective tissue, also know as fascia. This substance connects each part to other parts and the whole, very much like a flexible skeleton. When this tissue is healthy it is smooth and slippery, allowing the muscles, nerves, blood vessels or organs to move freely and function properly. Imagine a piece of scotch tape, the smooth side is healthy fascia, the sticky side is scar tissue or unhealthy fascia. Rub the tape along your skin with both sides to "feel" what an adhesion is like. The drag that you feel, the "pulling" sensation, is what an adhesion is like. These adhesions attach to muscles decreasing their ability to work properly. You really know when you have an adhesion on a nerve, you get many abnormal sensations like numbness, tingling or pain.

What can A.R.T. help with?

A.R.T. can be effective in many long-standing, difficult cases where traditional therapies have had mixed results. It is very helpful where adhesions have entrapped nerves such as in carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica and headaches.

A.R.T. can help in acute injuries by working the surrounding tissues to lessen the stress on the injury itself. In later stages the injury site can be worked to maximize the quality of the stabilizing scar tissue and minimize the overproduction of scar tissue.

A.R.T. is also important for joint conditions. Adhesions can limit the muscle's ability to lengthen which can alter the biomechanics of the joint. This can lead to decreased mobility of the joint or abnormal motion which, in turn, can cause wear and tear on the joint. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Back Pain and Sciatica
  • Headaches and Neck Pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Achilles Tendonitis
  • Rotator Cuff Problems
  • Runner's Knee and Shin Splints
  • Strains and Sprains
  • Golfer's Elbow
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Bursitis
  • Frozen Shoulder and Adhesive Capsulitis
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome
  • Strength Imbalances
  • Poor Flexibility and Poor Posture
  • Chronic Muscle or Joint Pain and Stiffness

 What to expect from an A.R.T. treatment program

Active Release Therapy is a non-invasive technique that has virtually no side effects and comes with a record of very good results. However, it is not a magic bullet or cure-all, correct diagnosis of soft tissue injury is essential for effective treatment, so you are carefully evaluated, assessing your movements, and the site of injury area and its surrounding tissues. After the injury has been evaluated, it is treated manually. The most common method is to move the tissue through a full range of motion while applying manual force along the scar tissue.

A treatment session typically lasts about 10-15 minutes per area treated. In many cases the problem is fixed, or significant improvement is seen, in five to six treatments. If significant resolution is not seen by this time, further investigation may be advised and A.R.T. may not be of benefit. The treatments can be uncomfortable, but is a pleasant discomfort when done properly.

A.R.T. is usually a very effective treatment on its own. However it can be combined with other types of treatment that contribute to optimal joint function. Acupuncture and joint manipulation is often used in combination with A.R.T. (especially with spinal conditions). As well, rehabilitative exercises to improve strength and flexibility are usually necessary.

Will my condition or problem return after treatment?

Usually, the changes made with treatments are permanent, but ultimately the answer depends on the patient compliance with recommendations for after care. "If you keep doing what you're doing, you keep getting what you're getting". This is true for those with repetitive strain injuries (RSI) or cumulative trauma injuries. To not alter the patterns that got you injured in the first place will only cause the problem to recur. An important part of A.R.T. treatments is the therapist’s recommendations to activity modification, stretching and exercises. Each individual is expected to commit to the suggestions for the best results.

Call Now to Find Out if You Could Benefit from ACTIVE RELEASE THERAPY


CAUTION: The above is only a guide and should not be used as a substitute for being evaluated by a regulated health care professional that has experience in managing whiplash associated disorders. If you have any questions about your condition, please feel free to contact me at your convenience. If you feel that this is a medical emergency, please visit your closest hospital emergency department.