The Active Release Technique (ART, also referred to as the Active Release Techniques) is a system of movement-based massage treatment developed and patented by P. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP. He teaches this system, which involves over 500 treatment movements or protocols, to health care professionals worldwide to certify them as ART practitioners.
ART is different from traditional chiropractic manipulations in that it focuses on hands-on massage and repair of soft tissue, to alleviate conditions caused by strain and overuse. Overused muscles can change in many ways. They can develop acute tears or small tears (micro-trauma) in muscle tissue that cause the muscles to suffer from a lack of oxygen (hypoxia). This can cause a buildup of scar tissue in the affected areas. As scar tissue increases, muscles actually shorten and become less flexible, causing a restricted range of motion, pain, or strength loss. Nerves can also become trapped, resulting in symptoms of numbness, weakness, or tingling.
An ART session combines examination with treatment. ART practitioners use their hands to assess the texture, flexibility, and range of movement in muscle tissue, tendons, and ligaments. Using gentle hand pressure, they then utilize the ART protocols to massage the soft tissue with stretching motions to break up fibrous adhesions and restore normal functionality. In some ART sessions, the patient’s muscles and tissues are manipulated by the practitioner; in others, the patient is asked to move the affected areas while pressure is applied to them. The goal is to restore normal movement and ease pressure on entrapped nerves or blood vessels.
Many conditions can be successfully treated using ART, such as back pain, headaches, TMJ, carpal tunnel syndrome, “tennis elbow,” spinal pain, tendonitis, sciatica, shin splints, and recurring sprains and strains. A study performed at Vanderbilt University determined that “the results supporting the efficacy of ART have been significant enough to support the treatment as a viable alternative method for treating soft-tissue injuries and pain.”
Training and certification as an ART practitioner is provided to chiropractors and other health care professionals by Dr. Leahy’s organization and through New York Chiropractic College. Courses are provided on Upper and Lower Extremity conditions, Spinal problems, Long Tract Nerve Entrapment, and Diagnosis / Active Palpation. Students must attend all required hands-on workshops and pass an examination to become certified. Practitioners must also attend follow-up courses and be periodically retested to maintain the credential.