What Is Active Release Technique® and How Does It Work?

Personally written by Milan Lassiter, DC.  He is located at 1303 W. Main St., Richmond, VA and can be reached at (804) 254-5765


Active Release Technique®, also referred to as ART, is a non-invasive hands-on therapy, provided by practitioners who are licensed through their state medical boards and who have completed post-graduate certifications through Active Release Techniques, LLC.

ART allows a practitioner to diagnose and treat soft-tissue injuries with their hands. Soft tissue refers mostly to muscle, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and fascia (a connective tissue that’s all over your body). Many of the injuries that are treated with Active Release Technique are from repetitive stress to an area, overuse injuries, over-training, sprains/strains, muscle pulls, or joint dysfunction (ie: a joint can’t move in certain directions or feels restricted).

ART providers are able to locate scar tissue adhesions within muscles or in-between them.  Certified ART providers can recognize the difference in the way an area moves, the tension and tightness that develops in the area, and the change in the texture of the tissues (often the tissues will feel stringy, lumpy, “knotted”, or hardened like a leather belt). A precise hand or thumb contact is applied to the correct area. The patient is then instructed on how to move the effected region of their body through a specific range of motion (the muscle is shortened and then lengthened).  This allows the muscle to slide under the ART providers contact.


Think of this process as a paintbrush with a lot of thick paint on it, which has been left out on a piece of paper over night. Envision the bristles of the paintbrush as a muscle, the paper as another structure (could be another muscle, a joint, a nerve, etc.), and the actual paint as the scar tissue. As the paint (the scar tissue) dries and hardens over time, it sticks to the paper (another structure near by). The next time you try to move the brush, the bristles (the involved muscles) have become hardened and non-moveable, causing the paper (a near by structure) to become stuck to it, too.


The analogy in the body would be that a muscle becomes locked up and sticks to the structures around it.  Now think of ART as a way to break up the adhesive scar tissue (the hardened paint) so the involved muscles that are tense, painful, and are unable to move correctly, get “released” from near-by structures (they’re un-stuck from the paper). In other words, everything becomes moveable and soft again. 


Much of what is treated with ART occurs from cumulative injuries that build up over time, gradually accumulating into something that alters the way your body functions.

There are 3 main ways to cause cumulative injuries:


An acute injury   For example, when you pull a muscle, sprain your ankle, or get “whiplash” from a car accident. Tissues get torn and inflammation sets in, which eventually causes adhesive scar tissue to form over time.

Repetitive motion  For example, the constant repetitive stress created from running. Another example is with someone who types all day on a computer. This is not as physically rigorous as running, but the repetitive keyboard strike with the fingers can accumulate 20,000+ movements per day. It causes a smaller trauma to the tissues than with running, but the number of repetitions is a lot more than with a runner.

A constant pressure or tension injury  For example, a retail employee or nurse who stands for 10+ hours a day on hard surfaces. This type of injury doesn’t require any motion at all, but the constant pressure and load on the leg muscles can decrease circulation to the area (starving the area of oxygen), shorten the muscle, and create adhesive tissue to form from the constant contraction.


One of the problems with this is that if you don’t break the cumulative injury cycle, it continues in a circle, getting worse and worse over time. In other words, it’s self-perpetuating. ART treatments are designed to break the cumulative injury cycle, keeping people pain-free, limber and performing well with their sport or daily activities. Read more about Dr. Lassiter performing ART in his office by clicking here.


Dr. Lassiter

Author Dr. Lassiter

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