What Are Active Release Techniques?

Active release techniques (ART) are patented movement-based soft tissue massage techniques. The techniques were developed by a chiropractor in Colorado, Dr. P. Michael Leahy. The treatments of ART are administered by more than 14,000 certified providers in North America. The protocols of ART are utilized to treat problems with soft tissues of the body. Structures like muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, and nerves are considered soft tissues. The protocols utilized by active release techniques represent a real alternative to traditional treatments of soft tissue injuries such as massage, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, and trigger point therapy.

The bulk of conditions or injuries cured with active release techniques result from constant tension or pressure on a particular portion of the human frame. The sources of these conditions or injuries are typically muscle overuse, and can result in soft tissues becoming weak and tight. This process renders the soft tissues more vulnerable to inflammation, abnormal fusion, and scarring. If unnoticed, the process may end with the formation of adhesions, or scar tissue, in the soft tissues.

The buildup of scar tissue may result in weaker and shorter muscles, decreased motion in joints and muscles, and nerves being entrapped. The symptoms result in pain, immobility, and hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in the soft tissues. Ultimately the symptoms decrease athletic performance. Active release techniques are designed to restore normal movement in the soft tissues and release any entrapped nerves.

How Are Active Release Techniques Performed?

An active release techniques appointment is a balance of analysis and treatment. Experts palpate, or feel with their hands, and assess the consistency, motion, and tightness of muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and fascia. When damaged soft tissue is encountered, the expert will exert deep pressure on the area while they have the patient carry out a precise set of movements that cause the muscles to shorten and lengthen. Treatment protocols with ART vary and utilize upward of 500 movements.

Two sources of scar tissue affecting soft tissues are trauma and chronic injury. Trauma is usually a result of acute muscle strains and sprains. Chronic injury can result in the accumulation of tiny tears termed microtrauma. As the scar tissue accumulates in the soft tissues it begins to adversely affect movement and strength in both muscles and joints.

The administration of active release techniques is not intrusive. Practitioners can utilize ART in the initial diagnosis and treatment of injuries of the soft tissues, which could prevent the later need for intrusive treatment such as surgical intervention. An additional advantage of active release techniques is shortened recovery periods after the administration of treatment. Recovery periods after a surgical intervention coupled with physical therapy could stretch months and up to one year.

The father of ART, P. Michael Leahy, reports a success rate greater than 90% using his patented techniques. With all its success, ART also has no major adverse effects. In the world of health care, the previous statement is the exception and not the rule. The frequency of active release techniques treatments are restricted to once every other day. The treatment of soft tissue injury with active inflammation or due to blunt trauma is prohibited.

Conditions Related To Active Release Techniques

back painActive release techniques are utilized to evaluate and treat many types of soft tissue injuries. Most soft tissue injury and damage is caused by trauma and chronic injury. Injured soft tissue is predisposed to scar formation, inflammation, and abnormal fusion of diseased muscle. These factors combined can lead to decreased range-of-motion, pain (acute or chronic), and decreased strength in both joints and muscles.

Active release techniques may be utilized in the treatment of various conditions such as:

The above list of various conditions is a sampling of those that are amenable to treatment with ART. The majority of the ailments needing intervention with active release techniques can be attributed to constant tension and overuse of muscles. These two factors combine and may lead to symptoms such as pain, immobility, and nerve compression in the soft tissues.


Providers of active release techniques utilize their hands to seek soft tissue damage. After localizing damaged soft tissue, providers exert deep pressure while patients simultaneously perform patented specific movements. The techniques are gaining popularity in North America as greater than 14,000 individuals have gained certification in the discipline. Those certified include physicians, chiropractors, massage and physical therapists, athletic training staff, and other health care disciplines familiar with the evaluation and treatment of soft tissue injuries.

The implementation of active release techniques is reported to have a success rate over 90% and no significant adverse effects. The techniques seem to lead to faster recovery, restoration of normal function, and long-term prevention of re-injury.


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