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What is A.R.T.®?

Active Release Techniques® - Soft Tissue Management System

The Active Release Techniques Soft Tissue Management System was developed and founded by Dr. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP. Dr. Leahy has conducted research with the University of California San Diego Medical School on cumulative trauma disorders. Additionally, he serves on the Colorado Division of Worker’s Compensation Guidelines Committee for the treatment of cumulative trauma disorders. Dr. Leahy’s works have been published in several peer- reviewed journals.

Active Release provides a way to diagnose and treat the underlying causes of a variety of conditions collectively called cumulative trauma disorders. These disorders are also known as repetitive stress injuries or "overuse" syndromes. These syndromes are given familiar names like rotator cuff syndrome, tendonitis and plantar fascitis. Other conditions that fall directly into this category are post- operative scar tissue, carpal tunnel, chronic low back pain, and hyper extension/flexion injury (whiplash).

Understanding Soft Tissue Dysfunction

Upon an initial injury (repetitive strain or direct trauma) the first process to take place is inflammation.  This is the first step to the body's healing process and along with this; cells migrate to the area to lay down new fibers to repair the injured ones. These fibers are rough and unorganized and termed scar tissue.  Kind of like when you have a hole in the wall and lay down the plaster to fill it, you have to sand it down and smooth it out before you can paint it again. This scar tissue contracts over time thereby shortening the muscle fibers and not allowing for a strong contraction (weak muscle). So now most practitioners believe that we have to strengthen the area due to this weak muscle. These fibers however, also act as sandpaper when the muscle contracts, irritating the area more and inflaming it further. This leads to more pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion and with nerve entrapments like carpal tunnel, more tingling in the fingers and aches. This scar tissue becomes so dense and strong it’s like “crazy glue”.
In the chronic stage of this cycle it leads to a decrease in blood flow to the tissue, decreased oxygen and therefore an increase in scar tissue. Simple stretching at this point is also not very effective.  Only when enough of this scar tissue is broken down can a strengthening program begin, otherwise this cumulative injury cycle keeps perpetuating. This is why most rehabilitation programs (situation dependent) fail or are very limited.

To understand soft tissue injury, you must comprehend the basic mechanism of cumulative injury. Cumulative trauma disorder is the major injury problem in the workforce and the general population in this country. Federal statistics show that it now surpasses back pain, and has worsened by 670 percent in the last 5 years. Past therapies such as massage, heat, cold, electrical stimulation, rest, exercise and surgery – have all failed to treat them effectively.

Symptoms of cumulative trauma disorders are sensations of tingling, burning, aching and weaknesses. When a muscle, tendon, ligament, or nerve is damaged from trauma or overuse, the body will attempt to repair the damage with scar tissue. These scar tissue adhesions left untreated perpetuate the cumulative injury cycle and result in progressive loss of function and increased pain. Soft tissue dysfunction often leads to a loss of flexibility, strength, and range of motion. People often attribute these losses to "just getting old," but this is seldom the case.

Active Release separates, releases, and stretches the connective tissue adhesions, restores vascular and lymph circulation, and increases your range of motion, flexibility, and strength. The treatments can be a bit uncomfortable, or even a little painful, but this pain is an important indicator that the problem has been located and signals that the treatments are correcting the injury. Patients often report that it "hurts good."

Regardless of your activity level you can benefit from Active Release. From those who are victims of car accidents -- or even the proud weekend warrior -- Active Release has proven to be a fast, effective, non-invasive way to heal a wide variety of soft tissue injuries.

Why Active Release is Different

Active Release is a highly successful approach to injuries of muscles, tendons, nerves, and the surrounding soft tissues. Active Release is not massage, physiotherapy, or chiropractic care. While those procedures relieve muscle and motion dysfunction, they do not necessarily address the underlying problems caused by scar tissue formation.

The THREE most common mechanisms of injury are:


All three are part of the cumulative injury cycle. Soft tissue structures in the body change or adapt with time; these changes are predictable and can be felt by the doctor.

Chronic or “older” injuries actually feel different from acute or recent ones.

Active Release has proven to be especially valuable for athletes, from the professional to the beginner. Ninety percent of the time athletes with acute or long-standing muscular strain/sprain injuries experience complete recovery -- in a short period of time. ART is now being utilized at the highest levels of athletic competition, including the Olympics, National Football League, Arena Football League, Ultimate Fighting Championship and Ironman triathlons. As a result of the success of ART, many NFL teams have even placed ART providers on staff.

ART isn’t just for athletes. It provides relief from many common repetitive strain to complex soft-tissue injuries such as the list of conditions below.

  • Arthritis
  • Ankle Injuries
  • Back Pain
  • Bunions
  • Bursitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Compartment Syndrome
  • Complex Cases
  • De Quervains's Tenosynovitis
  • Dupuytren's Contracture
  • Failed Surgery Pain Complex
  • Foot pain/injury
  • Gait Imbalances
  • Golf Injuries
  • Hammer Toes
  • Hand Injuries
  • Headaches
  • Hip Pain
  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome
  • Impingement Syndromes
  • Joint Dysfunction
  • Knee Pain
  • Leg Injuries
  • Muscle pulls, strains or weakness
  • Myofascitis
  • Neck Pain
  • Nerve Entrapment Syndromes
  • Piriformis Syndrome
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Post Surgical
  • Repetitive Strain Injuries
  • Rib Pain
  • Rotator Cuff Syndrome
  • Running Injuries
  • Scar Tissue Formation
  • Sciatica
  • Shin Splints
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Sports Injuries
  • Swimmers Shoulder
  • Tendonitis, Tendonosis
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Throwing Injuries
  • TMJ
  • Weight Lifting Injuries
  • Whiplash
  • Wrist Injuries