Nagging aches and pains are so common among athletes that we almost wear them like badges of honor. We can ignore, deny, medicate or chalk up lingering injuries to aging bodies. But the fact of the matter is there is a clinical approach called Active Release Technique therapy (ART) that is freeing athletes from pain.
Active Release Technique Therapy
Active Release Technique therapy – or ART – is a soft-tissue therapy designed to target overuse injuries in muscles, tendons, ligaments fascia and nerves by breaking down restrictive scar tissue and restoring proper motion to the injured area.
Overuse injuries such as pulls, tears and micro-traumas cause our bodies to produce thick scar tissue over time. That scar tissue adheres to the surrounding areas and restricts range of motion. All of this eventually leads to decreased circulation, tightness, pain and loss of strength.
Dr. Kevin Sherman, a Chiropractic sports doctor and certified ART practitioner and instructor in Scottsdale, Arizona, explains the body’s response to injury.
“Any time you injure a soft tissue in any way, the body always lays down scar tissue. After an acute injury or surgery, large amounts of scar tissue can form relatively quickly. With repetitive trauma, scar tissue slowly builds up over time and eventually causes symptoms,” he says.
The Missing Link
“Historically, the focus on scar tissue has been missing from traditional manual therapy circles, until now. Today we have techniques, like ART, that focus on reducing and eliminating scar tissue, vastly improving outcomes for patients. With ART, our goal is to restore normal motion, biomechanics and circulation by breaking up scar tissue and adhesions.”
Dr. Sherman likens the texture and consistency of scar tissue to a cotton ball. Scar tissue is made of dense collagen fibers. “Like cotton, scar tissue fibers are haphazardly intertwined. In healthy tissue, collagen fibers are organized along lines of stress. With ART, we are essentially reorganizing scar tissue along stress planes and eliminating the disorganized portion that robs the tissue of circulation and proper motion,” he explains.
Who Can Benefit?
Anyone who has experienced soft-tissue injuries can benefit from ART. “ART really shines bright on old injuries that have been bothering patients for a long time. The scar tissue from those injuries never goes away. Over time, it actually contracts and can cause even more pain,” Dr. Sherman says.
ART can also be highly effective for nerve-related injuries and conditions when the nerves have become entrapped in scar tissue adhesions.
I know first-hand how ART can improve quality of life. I suffered for years from plantar fasciitis, followed by an overuse injury that involved my illiotibial band (even though it felt like my knee). The ongoing pain was frustrating. I tried every traditional avenue, including a break altogether from running and cycling, but the pain seemed to always return.
Be Free of Pain
That’s when a friend suggested ART therapy. Today, I am thrilled to be pain-free. And occasional tune-ups are all I need to stay that way and continue to enjoy an active lifestyle.
For people who have gone the physical therapy route for months on end and still can’t seem to be free from injury pain, ART may be the answer. Dr. Sherman’s common cases include plantar fasciitis, frozen shoulder injuries, IT band syndrome, various forms of tendinitis, shin splints and sciatica, as well as everyday sprains and strains.
As Dr. Sherman describes it, “For the most part, once we release the scar tissue, it doesn’t necessarily return. It’s like undoing a zipper. In fact, it’s so effective at treating soft-tissue injuries that if someone is not getting better after a few treatments, then there may be a more serious problem.”
How Long Will It Take?
ART treatments are done in a series of visits. Dr. Sherman says patients generally see noticeable improvement in four to six treatments. During an ART treatment the practitioner uses his or her hands to evaluate the tension, texture and movement of the injured area and then applies a very specific tension to the abnormal tissues combined with precise patient movement. It’s a team effort between the practitioner and patient.
In some cases, insurance may cover the treatments, but it’s always best to check first. Over time, the investment in ART treatments even if it’s paid out of pocket can be more economical that ongoing physical therapy or pain medications.
“Initially, we see patients two to three times a week for the first two to three weeks,” says Dr. Sherman. “Once we get through an initial course of treatment, we discharge the patient if they are better or we taper down rapidly as they improve.
For athletes and active people, having ART in the injury prevention arsenal can make the difference in enjoying sports and activities over the long term or suffering from chronic pain.
“Often, we can detect soft-tissue problems when we examine and observe patients, even before symptoms present,” says Dr. Sherman. He compares the build up of scar tissue with a bacterial infection. “Scar tissue is often present long before symptoms appear. Symptoms can present gradually and build to the point of acute illness.
It is common for professional sports teams to include ART practitioners within their athletic trainer ranks. “It’s common to see increased strength and improved performance immediately following ART treatments because ART can restore normal motion and reduce muscular inhibition,” Dr. Sherman says.
Finding an ART Provider
Locating the right ART provider for you means making sure the licensed healthcare professional you choose carries the right certifications and experience.
Without the proper training, practicing ART on patients can actually cause more harm than good. Dr. Sherman has been a certified ART practitioner for 16 years and is also an ART instructor who travels across the country teaching others the technique.
Dr. Sherman recommends going to the provider finder tool on the official Active Release Technique website to locate qualified providers in your area.
“It’s still exciting for me, even after doing this for so many years, to help people who have been suffering and not been able to find help with other treatments,” Dr. Sherman says. “It’s amazing how much we can fix and how fast we can fix things when we are able to target and treat soft tissue problems so specifically with ART.”