Overused muscles feel tired and achy and often we believe the only remedy is time. Other possibilities for pain relief that is caused by injured or overused muscles are called active release techniques. This is a safe method for correcting soft tissue injuries and other muscle related problems.

Active release techniques use hands-on, manual therapy to lengthen the muscles and release the tension in nerves and tissues. You will work with a practitioner who applies directed tension to the areas that need it the most. They will also direct the patient to perform specific motions that shorten and lengthen the muscle.

Active release techniques can be used for a variety of pain conditions including:

  • Headaches
  • Neck or back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Shoulder pain
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Shin splints
  • Knee pain
  • Tennis elbow

Active release techniques can be used to relieve pain from these conditions quickly and even permanently.

How it works

As muscles in the body become overused, the related tissues can become adhered to other tissues and nerves. In order to increase range of motion and relieve pain they need to be restored to their intended state. These adhesions cause muscles to become shorter and weaker and can lead to tendinitis or painful trapped nerves. The adhesions can be caused by improper posture, incorrect use of muscles, sprains, or strains.

Active release techniques are a physical therapy option that helps to lengthen the muscles and separate adhesions to restore better motion.

During a session, the problem areas are identified and the proper technique is determined. The therapist will direct the patient to perform specific movements to shorten and lengthen these muscles, tendons, and ligaments while they make contact with the affected area with their hands to apply pressure and help the adhesions break up. It will also release the nerves from entrapment. Patients can direct their level of comfort and if the treatment becomes too painful, it can stop. Significant results are typically felt within just the first few treatments.

There are many similarities between active release techniques and chiropractic care and, in fact, the two are often performed in conjunction.

Risks of active release techniques

It is critical that active release techniques are only used on muscles that have been overused or have sustained a use-related injury such as a sprain. It should never be used to treat traumatic injuries or an area that is experiencing active inflammation. It is recommended that the treatment not be pursued every day but kept to every other day or less depending on the severity of the pain. Otherwise, there are few adverse side effects with this form of treatment and it is considered generally safe.

Finding a provider

Active release techniques are part of a specialization where physical therapists or chiropractors are trained in the specific practice. Since there are active release technique certifications, look for someone who is knowledgeable about the ART process and trained professionally. Talk to your doctor or chiropractor for a referral and always let them know about any alternative treatments and techniques you’re considering before making a decision. Because active release techniques do carry some risks if performed incorrectly or with the wrong kind of injury, it is imperative that you fully understand how the process works and have a comfort level with your practitioner.

At-home active release techniques

Because this technique is based entirely on soft tissue and muscle movement it can be done at home without a trained practitioner as long as it is performed safely and with a few modifications.

If your muscles are suffering from fatigue rather than soft tissue injury this may be a great way to remain limber and keep pain at bay. Always be sure to use proper stretching techniques and be cautious not to overdo the exercises to cause or exacerbate injury.

Here some ways you can do active release technique exercises at home for common sore muscles.

  • Shoulders: Extend your arm in front of your body. Use your other hand to press the muscles between your neck and shoulder. Move your free hand to your lower back. Tilt your head away from the hand pressing on the muscles. Straighten your head and extend your arm. Continue as you move the pressure along the area between your shoulder and neck to release tension all across the muscle.
  • Achilles tendon: Sit down extending one leg in front of you with the toes pointed. Bend the other leg at the knee and grasp it with your fingers on your mid-calf and thumb on your shin. Press and pull up slightly with your hand as you flex your toes.
  • Hamstrings: Lie down on your back with both of your legs bent at the knee. Grasp one leg at the hamstring with both hands and raise your foot toward the ceiling and hold for a few seconds. Repeat across the hamstring and on your opposite leg.
  • Calf: Sit down with one leg bent like you did for the Achilles tendon. Grasp your calf with fingers on the lower area and straighten your leg. Flex your toes. Continue to the middle and top of your calf muscle.

You can read more about this at-home technique here.

If you feel muscle fatigue, soreness, or have a soft tissue injury that this type of therapy is appropriate for, talk with your specialist about the options available in your area and schedule an appointment with a trained active release technique therapist.

Have you ever used active release therapy? What was your experience?

Image by Victoria Garcia via Flickr

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