Pain, unfortunately, is part of life. Whether it’s from a workout injury like twisting an ankle during a soccer game or a trail run or chronic neck pain from years of staring at a computer screen, one thing is certain: Pain affects your lifestyle.
But what if there was something you could do to help stop the pain caused by an injury from altering your day-to-day life and even prevent future injuries? It might be time to try something new.
What’s Active Release Technique?
Born out of a need to help injured athletes get back to peak performance, P. Michael Leahy, D.C., created the active release technique (ART). It’s a movement-based soft-tissue massage technique that addresses the underlying cause of muscle or joint pain and restores normal function. And once that injury is healed, it helps keep you from being injured again.
The ART treatment protocols — which include more than 500 specific moves — work to break up adhesions in the body — bands of scar tissue that bind parts of your muscle tissue that aren’t normally joined.
While necessary for healing, scar tissue may stick to adjacent structures, causing decreased range of motion and flexibility or even compressing nerves or restricting blood flow, says Graeme Smith, D.C., owner of Smith Chiropractic and Sports Rehab and a certified ART practitioner. And when that happens, you might experience muscle fatigue, weakness and pain as well as numbness and tingling sensations.
Since each person responds differently to treatment, the sessions are tailored to work with whatever injury or maintenance goal you bring to the table. However, there’s one thing all treatments have in common: The therapies are interactive and involve a patient’s participation. It’s expected that the patient will be involved in the process.
During a session, an ART practitioner will apply pressure as the patient moves through a specific movement pattern. “Each movement is a stretch,” Smith says. This helps you know where the end of your range is, so that when you’re stretching on your own, you can take it to that point without fear of aggravating the area.
How ART Can Improve Your Workout
Smith says there are four building blocks of staying injury-free: mobility, stability, strength and power. “A lot of people like to go for the strength and power exercises and movements,” he says, “but if the muscle doesn’t have its full range of motion, it’s not going to function well.”
A lot of athletes and fitness enthusiasts injure themselves when one side of the body (for instance, an arm or leg) is weaker than the other. So it’s important to pinpoint these imbalances (which an ART practitioner can help you do) and focus on the single-leg and single-arm exercises to make sure the balance, strength and stability is equal from side to side.
“Being flexible and stable gives you the building blocks so that when you go to the gym everything is already moving correctly,” Smith says. “If you have tightness on one side, which is the asymmetry, and a practitioner can loosen it up with ART, then it allows your next workout to be more efficient and effective.”
Smith also believes that if an athlete is training for something, such as a race or strength competition, getting treatment and making sure everything is stable from head to toe leading up to the event is key. Because even if there’s no pain or discomfort, ART can enhance still your performance.
“Those visits where you are coming in and knowing that you are doing an Ironman event, for example, gets you to a point where you know everything is working well and you feel more confident in what you’re doing. It just enhances every single workout,” he says.
Can ART Benefit You?
Athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike use ART to help prevent injuries, improve performance and reduce recovery time. This proactive approach to wellness allows athletes to reduce the damage done through constant wear and tear on their bodies, which keeps them competing longer.
ART is also meant to help relieve pain from any condition that’s caused by overused muscles, including back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems and tennis elbow.
And while the treatment may seem aggressive and at times even hurt a bit — but it’s a good hurt — patients often describe feeling relief immediately following the first session. But don’t let the mention of pain deter you. Treatment is catered to each patient’s pain tolerance, and providers monitor a patient’s ability to handle any given movement.
If you’ve been plagued with injuries, chronic aches and pains or find that you’re not performing at your peak athletic or fitness level, it might be time to listen to your body and address what’s really going on.