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  • On Your Mark

NYC Injury Therapy's Top Secret Weapon: "Active Release"

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

A lot of fitness professionals and injury therapists, even those who train and work with world class athletes like world-record breaking, gold medal champion Olympic sprinter Donovan Bailey and hockey star Gary Roberts, have been using Active Release Techniques (ART), sports and clinical massage therapy. Elite athletes across the sports world benefit from Active Release Techniques. With good reason.

Famous athletes aside, these techniques are used to treat a wide range of conditions for anyone who needs it to reduce pain and feel better, not just the physically active. If you sit a lot at the office, work in construction lifting heavy materials, take care of an infant which involves bending over to pick up strollers, toys and young children, then the body can get physically taxed.

When this happens, Active Release might be one part of the solution to helping you live pain-free and reduce the risk of injuries. As a clinical massage therapist and post-rehab personal trainer in NYC, my treatment outcomes have exponentially improved since I started my training in Active Release Technique. Simply stated, Active Release was a game changer for me and my clients.

What is Active Release Technique?

Active Release Technique, or ART, is a completely different way of looking at and treating soft tissue injuries and it is successful because it gets to the core, the root of the problem. Active Release address soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, joint capsule) in a unique way compared to many other manual therapies, as you'll see below.

"The ART techniques have targeted specific pain areas of joints and muscles and have greatly reduced my pain in shoulders and hips. I highly recommend ART to anyone dealing with chronic pain issues in New York."

- Michelle, NYC

ART has been developed and refined in a patented system with the insight that many soft tissue injuries result from or cause a lack of blood flow (hypoxia), which leads to changes in texture, tension and movement quality in the affected tissue. These sorts of changes won’t generally be seen in an X-ray or MRI but rather through a thorough manual therapy assessment by a highly skilled injury therapist.

It is often more effective than many of the traditional injury recovery therapies used in Chiropractic and Physical Therapy settings such as electrical stim therapy, ultrasound, joint manipulation (cracking) and sports massage.

ART treats acute and chronic problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, connective tissue (fascia) and nerves. Back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, tennis elbow, even headaches, are just a few of the many conditions that can be resolved quickly and permanently with ART.

"A client named Gregg came to my Manhattan, New York City practice with an acute pain in his neck. After just one session, 90% of his pain was gone. Even I was amazed. I had always held myself to a high standard but I quickly realized that ART was a game changer." - Mark

For more information visit our Nagging Neck and Shoulder Pain article for more on pain relef.

How does ART work?

Every ART session is actually a combination of examination and treatment. The concept is simple: the therapist must first evaluate and find the affected muscles and other soft tissues. Any highly trained and knowledgeable therapist or doctor may also use other assessment techniques such as movement and postural assessments, muscle length examination and muscle strength tests to get a thorough and integrated picture of what may be causing an injury and its symptoms.

Once found, abnormal tissues are treated by first taking up the slack in the muscle, then adding manual pressure and tension to the problem spots. At this point, the muscle and joint are brought to their full range of motion while the therapist continues applying pressure, thus releasing the adhered muscle fibers through their intended range of motion and in the direction in which they are suppose to move.

Fully stretching the muscle to its maximum range of motion is vital because full joint range of motion and muscle elasticity are required for optimal muscle contraction, function and biomechanics. Optimal range of motion, muscle contraction and proper biomechanics are what reduces the risk of injury because they reduce the amount of stress that gets placed on the joints and muscles. To that end, Dr. Leahy, the original creator of Active Release Techniques and his instructors consistently emphasize that 90% of the treatment happens in the final 10% of the movement. This speaks to the importance of getting as much movement as possible, preferably without exacerbating symptoms in the immediate process.

Is Yoga or regular stretching equally effective?

Yoga, stretching and other exercises are only effective in most cases after the dysfunction within the soft-tissue structures have been correctly released. Stretching and exercising dysfunctional tissues will only lead to a dysfunctional result. The combination of finding the origin of the problem through various therapies, including ART treatments, functional training, stretching and behavioral modifications will result in long lasting results. The key is to break the pattern contributing to the problem. The pain isn't often where the problem is.

Stretching plays a very important role in the treatment and prevention of injuries but it will usually not break down adhesions by itself. Adhesions, or scar tissue, are much stronger and less pliable than normal, healthy tissue. Muscle groups can often adhere/bind to one another, preventing the normal sliding necessary for full mobility and muscle strength. ART helps restore proper slide within muscle fibers and between adjacent muscles in a way that in essence allows them to 'do their jobs' better.

Active Release Technique is in essence a combination of stretching and massage therapy. Through Active Release you can increase muscle length as with stretching. You also get the benefits of other medical massage techniques but in a more functional way because ART includes movement and range of motion.

"I have a lot of chronic injuries from years of sports and heavy resistance training. Mark is able to utilize his extensive knowledge of musculoskeletal anatomy in concert with his advanced training in multiple soft tissue modalities to make me feel and perform significantly better. He is an excellent ART provider and an overall good guy who sincerely cares about his clients. Top recommendation." - Jessie

When an individual performs a stretch, the tissue that lengthens fully may not be the adhered tissue but rather the healthy tissue because often times adhered muscle tissue cannot fully and properly lengthen. This can actually cause more damage to unhealthy tissue resulting in the increase of adhesions. Stretching correctly is still essential, but it will never release the restrictions that are already present. It's also important to stretch the proper muscles.

Just because a muscle hurts or feels tight does not mean it needs to be stretched. This is very important because overly lengthened muscles may feel tight but are actually already overstretched and thus stretching them further may just aggravate symptoms and reinforce postural dysfunction.

One of the best examples of this is the thoracic spine. Because of poor posture, the thoracic spine often becomes overstretched, meaning the muscles are constantly under tension and the vertebrae and other structures get pulled into excessive flexion. The natural reaction to this is to stretch these muscles because they feel that need to be stretched. But in most cases they need to be strengthened while the opposing muscles in the front of the body need to be stretched.

For more information on injury therapy and for a list of referral options, get a free injury therapy and health consultation.

Is ART a type of massage?

They may look and sound similar, but the procedures and the results they produce are different from “traditional massage”. There are many styles of massage and generally massage promotes relaxation and increased circulation as well as reduces pain by bringing blood flow and oxygen to muscle fibers that may need it.

Neuromuscular and Myofascial Release Massage gets more specific but it often does not fix the soft tissue and make it work properly because it is not movement-based. ART is not only protocol-specific for the correction of adhesions, overused muscles, and scar tissues but emphasizes movement through full range of motion. Full range of motion and sliding of muscles is vital for optimal function. Since we are constantly moving, Active Release is a very functional approach to injury recovery. Getting a muscle and joint into the position of pain but without pain is key to the therapeutic rehabilitation process.

Say, for example, you cannot lift your shoulder over your head due to pain. This is not uncommon, especially with rotator cuff injuries, frozen shoulder and shoulder impingement. Well rather than avoid trying to do so, there are numerous ART protocols designed to do just that. The goal is to be able to lift your arm over your head which is needed for every day life and sports, right? So why not treat the muscles and joints while trying to do so? The point here is that Active Release helps get you into what was a painful position during treatment in a way that does not cause pain and releases scar tissue and adhesions in the painful range.

If you’re still not sure which is right for you, try our free clinical massage consultation.

Does ART help pain from trigger points?

Yes! Trigger points are tender spots in muscles that cause you to feel pain, either all the time and/or when pressure is applied. Active trigger points are ones that you are acutely aware of because they cause pain, tightness and are just always reminding you that something is wrong. They are the little knots you want to keep rubbing. But there are also latent trigger points, which are still hyper-sensitive spots that may be causing dysfunction but may not be obvious to you until your sports massage therapist or physical therapist touches it. Have ever had a massage in which your therapist hits that spot and you're like, wow, I didn't even know that was there? Well that's a latent trigger point.

Let's break this down a bit. For example, a trigger point in your piriformis muscle, a deep muscle in your glutes (butt), will tell your brain that there is a problem in your glute that runs down the back of your leg into your foot. "Where it hurts isn't where it is!" By correcting the muscle function, the trigger point goes away and so does the pain referral. Working on just pain specific areas is what is called "Chasing Pain”, which is typical of sports massage. Just because your leg hurts doesn't mean that's what only needs to be treated. Trigger points often 'refer' pain to different areas, often times tricking you into thinking that the pain referral area is the source of the problem.

"I practice martial arts regularly. This means I'm very hard on my body and suffer from above average wear and tear. Over the years, I've sustained some pretty serious injuries from sparring in martial arts. If I ever have any difficulties or injuries, Mark is my go-to guy. Mark's specialization in Active Release Technique (ART), his deep understanding of body mechanics and overall movement make him an expert in injury repair." - Clay

Why is ART so effective?

  • There are over 500 Active Release protocols that treat specific muscles and other soft tissues in the body. The treatments are not just for a general area but for specific structures to make them slide and glide better. Specific protocols can focus on just 1 tiny muscle or on several large muscles together. This versatility and array of treatment options make Active Release a game-changer within the clinical treatment world.

  • Active Release is movement-oriented, making it a functional therapy. Sports massage, deep tissue massage and other medical massage techniques are great but they sometimes fall short because they do not specifically restore proper tissue length. Without proper tissue length, an injured area will continue in the same movement pattern that is causing the problem in the first place.

  • ART gets to the core of the problem because it actually changes the texture, tension and movement quality in the affected tissue. It doesn’t just reduce symptoms or treat pain. It changes the forces that are causing them. But remember, your ART therapist needs to be treating the right muscles. this is why a thorough assessment is key. Doing the right treatment on only some of the right muscles won't get you all the way to recovery.

  • ART breaks up scar tissue. Scar tissue forms after an injury and when it builds up it creates restrictions in movement and a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the tissue (hypoxia). Scar tissue must be addressed in order to resolve many soft tissue injuries and ART is designed to do so because of its emphasis on specificity and movement.

  • ART providers are rigorously trained because of the extensive knowledge base and examinations that are required to become certified. In order to take the practical exam at the end of each course, every student must hand in an extensive written exam with over a hundred questions about anatomy, ART principles and specific protocols. Then, on the practical exam, each student must score a 90% to pas the course.

Who is ART for?

ART has many benefits, including the treatment of nerve entrapments, tendonitis, sciatica, carpel tunnel, shoulder impingement, neck pain, low back pain, ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, muscle strains, TMJ dysfunction, headaches, frozen shoulder, poor posture and much more. ART is or can be effective for pretty much any musculoskeletal injury and dysfunction. If you have joint pain, muscle strains and chronic pain, chances are that ART can help!

Active Release can be a very potent tool in your basket of injury rehabilitation options. In combination with Physical Therapy and medical treatments, and often on its own, Active Release can be a true game-changer when it comes to injury recovery and pain management. If you haven't experienced Active Release Technique treatments and suffer from chronic pain or nagging injuries, then find an ART provider near you!

Still not sure if Active Release Technique will be effective for you? Click HERE to get a free Active Release Consultation.

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