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Active Release Technique

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Active Release Technique (ART, also called Active Release Techniques) is a soft tissue system/movement-based massage technique developed and patented by P. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP. It is used to treat problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves.

Conditions Treated by Active Release Techniques

ART is most commonly used to treat conditions related to adhesions or scar tissue in overused muscles. According to ART practitioners, as adhesions build up, muscles become shorter and weaker, the motion of muscles and joints are altered, and nerves can be compressed. As a result, tissues suffer from decreased blood supply, pain, and poor mobility.

Specific conditions that can be treated with ART include headaches, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome other peripheral nerve entrapments, shin splints, sciatica, TMJ, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis and other soft tissue inflammatory disorders of the joints.

The goal of ART is to restore the smooth movement of tissues and to release any entrapped nerves or blood vessels. [1]

Treatment Description

In an ART treatment, the provider uses his or her hands to evaluate the texture, tightness and mobility of the soft tissue. Using hand pressure, the practitioner works to remove or break up the fibrous adhesions, with the stretching motions generally in the direction of venous and lymphatic flow,[2] although the opposite direction may occasionally be used.[3]

In the first three levels of ART treatment, as with other soft-tissue treatment forms, movement of the patient's tissue is done by the practitioner. In level four, however, ART requires the patient to actively move the affected tissue in prescribed ways while the practitioner applies pressure. Involvement of the patient is seen as an advantage of ART, as people who are active participants in their own healthcare are believed to experience better outcomes.[2]


Most studies on ART have been small in terms of number of patients followed, and many articles on it are anecdotal. However, a review of then-current literature by a Vanderbilt University student in 2008 concluded 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."[4]

Risks and Contraindications

ART is not appropriate in cases of blunt trauma or active inflammation, but otherwise there are no serious contraindications for its use, though treatments should be limited to every other day.[2]

Active Release Technique Training and Certification

Training in ART earns continuing education credits for chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, certified athletic trainers, medical doctors, and others who are licensed to work on soft-tissue conditions/injuries as well students in those fields. Courses at the Colorado-based Active Release Techniques are not open to practitioners who are not licensed to treat soft-tissue or to obtain malpractice insurance to treat soft-tissue.[5]

The ART courses are approved for CEU's in the United States through the New York Chiropractic College. Active Release Techniques is also an approved provider through the Board of Certification for Athletic Trainers and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork for Massage Therapists.[6]

To receive ART certification, practitioners attend workshops and must pass written and practical exam. In addition, to maintain certification practitioners must attend at least one ART seminar annually and pass recredential exams.[7]