NYC Active Release Techniques Guide – Modern Cure to Chronic Pain.
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
As a massage therapist and Active Release Techniques (ART) provider in New York, I am frequently asked what ART is and how it differs from traditional sports massage, clinical and medical massage, myofascial release and massage therapy in general.
First off, it is commonly used and relied upon for injury recovery and injury rehabilitation to enhance sports performance and for on-going injury prevention and pain management. It is generally performed by Chiropractors, Physical Therapists and Massage Therapist providers, although other sports medicine and licensed health professionals can receive training in ART as well. It is a specialized discipline within the injury recovery and medical massage landscape, and it is one that can dramatically improve one's orthopedic health.
How is ART different from massage?
ART differs from massage in the use of movement of the limbs, spine and torso under tension, and the attention to anatomical detail. Massage therapy provides numerous beneficial effects, but does not address scar tissue and adhesions in the same way that Active Release Technique treatments do. The purpose of ART is simple: fix the soft tissue and make it work properly by breaking up scar tissue from old and new injuries, releasing muscle adhesions, un-adhering muscles that get stuck together, restoring full range of motion, restoring one's confidence to perform painful movements and helping muscles slide and glide better.
ART does this by addressing inflammation, trigger points and adhesions which are tight bands of muscle fibers that get stuck together and as a result lose nutrient and oxygen supply. Massage therapy and other procedures may be of some benefit in this area, but based on results, ART wins hands down. Unlike massage or other myofascial release techniques, ART has over 500 specific protocols that treat affected areas of the body and specific muscles, ligaments, nerves, fascia and joint tissue. ART is especially geared towards the treatment of repetitive strain injuries (RSI) such as muscle strains and sciatica.
“Because of Mark’s active release techniques, I have been able to extend the longevity of my professional dance career.” - Alissa
Is ART really that amazing?
ART was developed, refined and patented by Dr. P. Michael Leahy in the mid-90s. Part of what has made ART so successful and effective is that Dr. Leahy has stayed, to this day, intimately involved in teaching courses and personally training all instructors. He travels internationally to teach instructors and runs a private practice in Colorado as well. He found out early on that he was able to reduce over 90% of his patients’ problems using ART within a relatively short length of time and number of treatments.
In order to pass any ART course, all providers must complete a thorough written exam and pass a practical exam with a minimum score of 90%. This is significant because it ensures that each ART provider is well-trained and rigorously approved to perform ART. Each course consists of 80% hands-on practice and instruction time with master-level Active Release Technique practitioners. Students work on each other, on instructors and get worked on by instructors.
Everyone takes the entire course very seriously because we know we will be rigorously tested in order to pass. The high cost of each course acts as further motivation to pass and not have to retake the course. So the bottom line is that ART courses attract passionate, educated and serious medical practitioners who want to soak up valuable information so they can better serve their patients. The courses are inspiring, fun, demanding, enlightening and transformative.
In all of the many courses, trainings and seminars I have taken in my 15 years as a clinical massage therapist, I by far learned and retained the most from my Active Release courses. And all providers are required to recertify each year and must attend a live seminar as part of the recertification process no less than every other year in order to stay ART certified.
This is not the norm!
In so many other modalities and specializations within the manual therapy and sports therapy fields, the bar is much lower, often there not being any written or practical exam to gain certification and if there is an exam one only needs a score of 70% to pass the course. I have found this especially true with personal training certifications and even medical massage therapy licensing exams.
In fact, in order to even take an Active Release Techniques course, one has to have a strong overall clinical knowledge base which requires an extensive foundation in anatomy and physiology or it will be extraordinarily difficult to learn the ART techniques and pass. Only licensed health professionals can get certified to be an ART provider.
It is Dr. Leahy’s commitment to producing the highest quality ART providers that has enabled ART to have such profound sports and rehabilitation therapy results that have helped it grow over the past 3 decades. Dr. Leahy and his team are constantly refining their protocols, coming up with new ones, conducting research into the benefits of Active Release therapy for the treatment of soft tissue injuries and maintaining a strong community of Active Release providers that enables us to learn from each other.
Who uses ART?
ART has been used on a preventative basis by elite triathletes in North America for a couple of decades, as well as every NFL team. Injury prevention is best achieved by movement screening which detects mobility problems (ART fixes these) and stability problems (motor control exercises fix these). To that end, Active Release Techniques has a partnership with companies such as Functional Movement Systems to integrate movement assessment and ART treatments.
The SFMA (Selective Functional Movement System) is a comprehensive movement assessment screen that helps identify very specific muscle imbalances, instabilities and motor control issues. Combined with Active Release Techniques it offers a very powerful and integrated diagnostic and treatment approach.
ART has been known throughout the injury rehab and pro sports worlds for years as being an excellent tool for rehab and athletic performance enhancement. In fact, numerous Olympic and professional athletes give credit to ART for helping them recover from injury, stay injury-free and improve their athletic performance.
Who can ART help?
ART can often help people who suffer from pain, stiffness, numbness, weakness or loss of motion because soft tissue changes are often the root cause of these types of symptoms.
Runner’s injuries such as hip pain, IT band syndrome, knee pain, patello-femoral syndrome, knee pain, shin splints, achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis all respond very well to Active Release treatment especially when they are combined with other sports rehabilitation therapies.
Several types of Headaches respond very well to ART. Headaches that radiate pain from the back of the head to either the temples or the front of the head may respond well to ART treatment. With Active Release treatment, our goal is always to completely eliminate the headaches – not just give temporary relief.
Whiplash, repetitive use and traumatic (such as car accident) injuries respond very well to ART. Workplace injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, sports injuries such as elbow tendonitis (golf and tennis elbow), shoulder injuries such as impingement, biceps tendonitis, rotator cuff strains, frozen shoulder; neck pain from whiplash, pinched nerves, arthritis and poor posture; and back pain of many origins generally respond very well to Active Release treatment.
Athletes are one of the groups that are really attracted to ART treatment. Many Sports injuries respond very well to ART treatment. ART has actually come to be regarded as a bit of a 'miracle treatment' for Olympic and professional athletes. Prominent athletes in every sport attribute part of their athletic success to ART treatment, including soon-to-be NFL Defensive End Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a pro to get treated like one.
“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
Arthritis symptoms respond well to ART treatment. In particular, Osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) can involve wear-and-tear on the inside of a joint, but much of the pain that you experience may come from the outer soft tissue structures. When this is the case ART treatment can be part of an effective program of pain relief and functional restoration. Functional restoration in the form of improved biomechanics, joint range of motion and muscle length can help decrease the wear and tear that gets placed on an arthritic joint, thus reducing the constant and repetitive strain contributing to the arthritis in the first place.
We will all experience arthritis in some joints as we age. It is an inevitable part of the aging process. But getting regular treatments such as Active Release along with good nutrition, stress management and a safe exercise regiment can vastly reduce the risk and severity of arthritis in many people.
All too often, a patient will mention pain in their knee, neck, shoulder etc, but will have resigned themselves to living with the pain, because it’s ‘arthritis’. In the majority of these cases, the person is pleasantly surprised to have their ‘arthritis’ relieved or their pain mostly or entirely ‘cured’ with a program including ART treatment. This is not to say that we have eliminated the degenerative arthritis changes in the bony joint, but simply the fact that we have eliminated one of the real sources of their pain – in the soft tissue structures.
The take-home message about Active Release Techniques therapy is that it is unique in many ways, especially when compared to so many other rehabilitation and sports injury recovery therapies; in its rigorousness with which providers must go through to become certified; in its emphasis on movement through full range of motion during treatment; in its vast array (over 500) of protocols designed to treat specific muscles, tendons, joints, nerves, ligaments and fascia; in that its founder, Dr. Leahy, is to this today intimately involved in the training of his instructors and the education of his ART providers.