Active Release Technique (ART) for Soft Tissue Injuries

Active release technique, or ART, is used by numerous types of health care providers to treat pain and range-of-motion issues. Most often, this treatment is used when repetitive motion injuries or other traumas have led to tissue scarring or damage that’s causing the symptoms. Find out more about active release technique below, including how it works and whether there are potential side effects.

Active release technique refers to a manual process of manipulating tendons and other tissues as the patient actively moves the area. The thought is that the manipulation and pressure helps break up scar tissue or other damage, allowing the healthy tissue in the area to heal and regrow.

ART can be provided by a wide range of practitioners. Professionals that might provide ART treatment include physical therapists, licensed massage therapists, chiropractors and physicians. Northeast Spine and Sports Medicine provides Active Release Technique in NJ.

How Does Active Release Technique Work?

During an ART treatment session, the patient is asked to move the impacted area in a certain way. Typically, the movement is to shorten and elongate the tendon or other muscle around which pain and symptoms are centered.

While the patient completes the movements, the practitioner manipulates the area. This involves applying certain types of pressure, massaging the area or otherwise pushing into dense scar tissue that has formed as a result of an injury.

The combination of the movement and the pressure and manipulation helps to break up the scar tissue.

ART can improve range of motion and functionality while reducing pain. That’s because scar tissue can bind or restrict muscles, tendons and ligaments from healthy movement. Over time, that can lead to irritation and swelling and degeneration of the muscles because they aren’t being used appropriately. Once scar tissue is removed, the body can begin to heal and the patient can start working to rebuild strength and movement.

Are you a good candidate for Active Release Technique (ART) for Soft Tissue Injuries?

  • Positive

    You are dealing with a repetitive stress injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, or shin splints.

  • Positive

    You suffer from ongoing or frequent headaches and have found little success with other techniques.

  • Positive

    You have scar tissue at the site of an injury which may be contributing to your pain.

  • Negative

    The pain you are dealing with is not the result of a soft tissue injury, but rather the result of blunt trauma or a regional pain syndrome.

  • Negative

    You are dealing with bone fractures, advanced diabetes, or severe osteoporosis.

Frequently asked questions

Does Active Release Technique Cause Pain?

Because the practitioner is putting specific, often heavy pressure on areas of your body, you might find that active release technique causes some discomfort or pain. Typically, it’s similar to the discomfort that might be felt with techniques such as deep tissue massage, gua sha or Graston.


How Effective Is Active Release Treatment?

Active release technique has been used for more than three decades and is known to be an effective treatment for certain types of injuries. One study compared outcomes of several types of treatments on neck pain, including active release technique. The study concluded that ART was the more effective treatment when pain was related to a soft tissue injury.

ART is also not invasive and can be performed in a doctor’s office or other outpatient setting without the need for recovery times. This makes it an approach favored by many providers and patients, especially when conservative treatment options are still on the table.

Active release technique can be even more effective when a patient is willing to do a little extra work. If you’re considering this type of treatment, talk to your provider about exercises and other steps you can take before and after the treatment.


How Long Does Active Release Technique Take?

An individual ART session may take between 15 and 45 minutes, though the actual active part of the session may only last a few minutes in some cases. Typically, a session involves more than just the movement of an area of your body while the practitioner manipulates it. You can expect:

  • An evaluation. If it’s the first session, the physical therapist or other provider may need to take some information about your history and evaluate the injury so they can plan the best approach to treatment. In subsequent sessions, the provider will likely spend a few minutes evaluating how well you’re progressing and whether you feel there are any gains or setbacks.
  • The actual ART treatment. The provider will conduct treatment, typically taking into account the patient’s tolerance for any discomfort. This is one factor that can impact how long the active part of the treatment session may take.
  • Post treatment evaluation. The provider may offer feedback about the session and ask for feedback from you. They might also provide some instructions for care or exercises that can be performed at home between sessions to maximize the chances at a positive outcome.

Some patients get relief after a single ART session. Others require multiple sessions to get results, so you may need to undergo ART treatment over the course of a few weeks depending on your situation.


What Are the Potential Side Effects of Active Release Technique?

In general, ART is considered to be a safe and effective technique for treating a variety of complaints. The side effects are generally minimal, and the most common is some lingering soreness in the area that was treated.

This is completely normal, as the provider would have been manipulating the area quite deeply. There might be some mild bruising, the same as you might experience with deep tissue massage.

The provider will likely offer guidance for recovery after an ART session. It might include resting the area as appropriate, taking over-the-counter pain medications or anti-inflammatories as needed or using ice on the area.


What Is ART Used for?

Active release therapy can be used to treat any area where injury has led to potential scar tissue (and the scar tissue is believed to be the cause for some pain or other symptoms). Most commonly, ART is used to treat injuries related to repetitive motion.

Some conditions that ART might be used to treat include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Tennis or golfer’s elbow
  • Bursitis
  • Sciatic pain
  • Shin splints
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Pain in the neck
  • Some types of headaches, including tension headaches
  • Strains to the shoulder

Active release technique can be applied to more than tendons. They might also be used on fascia, which is tissue that helps support organs and muscles, ligaments and specific muscles.


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