Active Release Technique: Say goodbye to chronic body pain with ART

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is Active Release Technique?

This is a technique formulated by P. Michael Leahy, who is a chiropractic sports physician to treat pains related to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves.

This technique was patented by P. Michael Leahy to perform a specific method to treat patients.  Active release technique or ART works by re-establishing motion between muscles and fascia as well as reduce fibrous adhesions in patients suffering from acute or chronic pain associated with overuse, repetitive strain, as well as postoperative problems.  This technique is similar to myofascial release and deep tissue massage technique, but with a difference.

This technique exerts minimal to no pressure over the joints and nerves and concentrates mainly on manipulating the soft tissue.  This technique to treat pain mainly is useful for the connective tissue, tendons, ligaments, and major muscle groups.  ART pushes the joint fluid throughout the body and stimulates the lymphatic system, which in turn reduces the inflammation.

How does it work?

ART works by breaking dense scar tissue (adhesions) as well as preventing their formation in the future.  It is believed that adhesions reduce the range of motion of joints and muscles since they are tough and are not flexible.  Adhesion is actually important to repair injured tissues and acts like glue.  These adhesions are generally dense and may compress on the nerves causing pain.

This is considered to be the main trigger point for the pain to develop in the joints and tendons.  Addressing the soft tissue with ART helps to break these adhesions and relieve the pain.  Some of the conditions that can be addressed with the use of ART include acute injuries, which can occur during exercise, sports, micro-trauma that is generally caused due to aging and inflammation, as well as hypoxia (inadequate supply of oxygen).

Who can benefit?

ART is a specific protocol that is followed to treat patients suffering from various types of pain.  There are different sessions in ART and each session is different from the other.  Sessions are created depending on the location and the severity of the pain.  Practitioners use over 500 different hand motions to evaluate and treat a patient.  These practitioners are generally chiropractors who get certified by receiving ART certification.  It is believed that once the tissue problems are addressed, around 90% of the problem can be solved.  This can also reduce the occurrence of further injuries during exercising and stretching.

People suffering from the following conditions can greatly benefit from ART.

  • People suffering from bursitis or tendonitis, which is generally associated with stiffness in the neck, hands, elbow, back, as well as the knees.
  • Pain associated with exerting such as exercise and sports.
  • Limited range of motion, unable to flex your muscles adequately.
  • Weakness in the muscles.
  • Joint pains that are caused due to inflammation.
  • Neurological problems such as numbness and tingling sensation.

Major Benefits of Active Release Technique

Increases flexibility

Adhesions are the biggest barrier for flexing the muscles and tendon.  Breaking these adhesions and limiting their formation, increases the flexibility of the muscle and tendon.  A single session of ART can increase the flexibility of legs, particularly the hamstrings.  This can greatly help active adults who are at higher risk of acquiring an injury.

Improves range of motion

People suffering from musculoskeletal disorders following an injury can benefit from ART treatments to improve range of motion and mobility.  It has been estimated that around 70% of adults are at risk of developing chronic neck pain during their lifetime.  Undergoing ART therapy can relieve these neck pains related to exercise, sports, as well as work-related injury.

Reduces Chronic Lower Back Pain

It has been estimated that around 80% of the population would experience back pain at least once in their lifetime.  Back pain is one medical condition that can affect people of all ages.  It was also found that around 20% of people suffering from acute back pain can develop chronic back pain later in their lifetime.  Abnormal activation and adhesions in the upper legs are considered to be the triggers for low back pain.  ART can actively break up the scar tissue and release the nerves that are compressed providing more than 90% of pain relief.

Relieves carpal tunnel syndrome

Swelling and pain with limited mobility of the hand and arms are considered to be carpal tunnel syndrome.  This is mainly caused due to the nerve compression of the median nerve.  Undergoing ART treatment specifically intended for carpal tunnel release for at least three times a week can significantly improve the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.  This is achieved by releasing the compression that is affecting the median nerve.

Fastens muscle recovery

Muscle wear and tear is common in active individuals such as athletes.  It is important for these muscles to recover quickly from this daily wear and tear.  ART seems to be the best option to achieve faster muscle recovery.  This helps the athletes to perform better.  ART therapy restores normal muscle and connective tissue function.  This reduces fibrous tissue accumulation as well as keeps the body flexible.

Post ART treatment exercises

Post ART treatment is as important as the ART treatment itself.  Since the treatment mainly focuses on releasing adhesions, it is important to continue focusing on four fundamental areas that are essential to reduce the possibility of occurrence.


Flexing the muscles and tendons to work appropriately is important for a person to stay active.  After the ART therapy, which helps restore the flexibility in the muscles and tendons, continuing certain flexibility exercise helps the muscles and tendons to remain in shape.

Following the stretching exercise once the adhesions have been released helps to retain flexibility.  It is important to note that stretching exercise before releasing the adhesions do not provide any benefits since it can only stretch the tissues above and below the adhesions, but not the actual adhesion.


The next aspect where post ART exercise should concentrate should be for strengthening the muscles.  These exercises are effective once the muscles are able to flex appropriately.  Any attempt to strengthen shortened muscles can cause the additional formation of adhesions, so it is important to undergo strengthening exercise only after releasing the adhesions and improving the flexibility of the muscles.


It is defined as the body’s ability to react to external forces.  These exercises help you to be aware of your own body parts, also called kinesthetic awareness.  This should be started as early as in the rehabilitation process. It is believed that these exercises can enhance the strength, agility, as well as endurance.


Cardiovascular exercise or aerobic exercises helps in maintaining adequate blood circulation.  This, in turn, improves the oxygen delivery to the soft tissues and reducing conditions such as hypoxia.

ART versus Other Soft Tissue Treatments

ART mainly focuses on treating the underlying problem whereas other treatments such as massage and stretching do not actually treat the underlying cause.  One of the biggest differences is that stretching can prevent adhesions whereas ART can break these adhesions and heal them.  Let us discuss some of the soft tissue treatments versus ART treatment.

ART vs. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy mainly concentrates on improving blood circulation and reducing muscle tension.  This provides temporary relief by lowering trigger points, but the root cause of adhesions and scar tissue still remains.  On the other hand, ART is a kind of deep tissue massage that releases adhesions and heals the scar tissue.

ART vs. Graston Technique

Graston technique, which is also patented, is very similar to the ART and both work on the same aspect of targeting the adhesions.  Both the techniques break up fibrous tissue, move tissue fluids, increase blood flow, as well as reduce pain.  The one big difference is that ART is performed with only hand movements whereas the Graston technique is performed using an instrument.  The handheld instrument can apply deep pressure in a systematic way as compared to the ART technique.

ART vs. Dry Needling

Dry needling technique concentrates on the myofascial pain.  During this technique, a dry needle (a needle that does not release any medication when inserted) is used to insert into the trigger points.  It is believed that the insertion of the needle releases the pain outward.  Dry needling is generally used in combination with other therapy such as stretching and physical therapy.  This improves the range of motion as well as other benefits.

ART vs. Rolfing

Rolfing concentrates on restoring the posture, particularly the spine.  This technique is performed with deep hand maneuvers such as the deep massage.  This reduces muscle tension, reduces fatigue, as well as restores the posture.

ART vs. NeuroKinetic Therapy (NKT)

NKT is a complex process where the pain is treated by trial and error basis.  During this therapy, the muscles that are behaving abnormally are identified and later corrected by targeting the motor control center (MCC).  This control center which is present in the cerebellum coordinates the movements in the body.  Using the NKT technique the MCC is reprogrammed to restore the balance.

What to Expect from Active Release Technique?

There are many positives associated with ART.  This does not mean that there are no negatives.  Since it is a precise treatment that is rendered, the treatment may sometimes be aggressive and even painful.  Every person is different and different people react in a different way to treatments.  Some people may experience immediate relief of pain with just one session whereas the other may not be able to notice any major relief.  Since the technique is a type of deep massage, it may be associated with soreness and pain after the session.  It is important to talk to your therapist about the progress and the way it is helping you.

Progress with response

Few people may just require one or two sessions of ART to relieve their symptoms whereas others might require long-term therapy.  It is important to schedule your treatments according to the response you receive from each session.  It is believed that an active athlete might require at least two sessions of ART every month and on the other hand, a normal person may benefit from ART just once in a month or even every other month.

Doing it the right way

Choosing the right therapist plays an important role.  You need to receive ART from a certified ART provider and nothing less than that.  According to an estimate, there are around 14,000 certified ART providers in North America.  The Active Release Technique website can provide you the information about the certified providers available in your area.  This can help you find the right therapist.

Active athletes are using this therapy in their routine to gain the numerous benefits associated with ART.  Since the regular physical exertion can cause serious damage to the muscles and tendons, incorporating them proves to be beneficial.  Addressing the root cause of the symptoms provides a unique benefit of treating the problem faster as well as provides permanent relief.  It is believed that ART can enhance the performance of an athlete by rapid healing of torn muscles.  Applying it in the right way is the need of the hour.



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