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Exploring New Physical Therapies: Active Release Technique

Nov 13, 2018

Physical Therapy (PT) is an ever-changing and advancing field these days with constant advancements in the field of sports medicine and rehabilitation.  When it comes to athletes, PT is on the cutting edge of the newest, non-invasive treatments that get you back in the game quicker than ever before. One of the newer tools being utilized by a lot of health care providers in the sports medicine field is Active Release Technique (ART).


ART is a soft tissue technique developed by Michael Leahy, DC. Originally this technique was used in elite athletes who have musculoskeletal injuries, with the goal of returning them to top performance as quickly as possible. It has evolved over time into a series of techniques that can be applied to every area of the body with amazing results.  Using only a few fingers or a single thumb, experienced hands, and an understanding of the complaint, an ART provider can significantly reduce pain, improve function, and get you moving quickly.


At its core, ART is simple; your practitioner will take a detailed history of the complaint, examine all areas at and around the injury site, determine the best location to start treatment, and then treat the affected area. The sensation during treatment can range from a stretch/burning to uncomfortable or painful depending on the type of injury and how long the area has been injured. The most common sensation reported during treatment is a mild to moderate skin-burn, often described as a “good-hurt”.


At this point, you are probably wondering what does ART do? And how does this work? The answers are not so cut-and-dry. The main theory of ART is based in myofascial release and releasing scar tissue, more commonly referred to as “adhesions”.  Adhesions form in the body from an injury that creates a “sticking” point in one or multiple areas where the tissue stops moving normally. This can result in range of motion loss, pain, swelling, weakness, and nerve entrapments (think numbness/tingling). The practitioner, once he or she has located the adhesion, will use their hands to pin the muscle of the affected area and move that muscle opposite to their localized thumb pressure, thus creating a shearing force to “break” the adhesion and free the muscle. Another theory of how ART works is based in deep pressure and altering pain feedback. This theory states that by using deep pressure at an area of injury and moving the body part through a “lost” range of motion, the practitioner can disrupt the pain cycle and break up muscle spasm, thus returning normal movement to the area. After practicing these techniques daily for the past 3 years, I personally lean towards the second theory.


Regardless of the exact mechanism of how ART works, it certainly has results behind it.  ART has been shown to be one of the few hands-on techniques that is minimally painful while resulting in an almost immediate decrease in pain, improved flexibility, increase in strength, and mild-moderate decrease in swelling to an injured area. In the case of nerve entrapments (numbness/tingling), it can even improve sensation. Due to these reasons, ART is applicable to almost all patients, any age, any body type, and almost all injuries. Reasons to not perform ART to a patient would include: skin disorders, bleeding disorders, surgical protocols, mental disability, and general safety concern.  The decision to perform or not perform ART is ultimately up to the provider and the specific patients’ health screen.


Some of the main uses of ART include (but are not limited to) treatment of:

  • Cervical Pain
  • TMJ (jaw pain/clicking)
  • Headaches/ Migraines
  • Postural Deficits
  • Back pain
  • Sports injury (chronic/ repetitive)
  • Dental
  • Frozen shoulder/ Adhesive Capsulitis
  • Joint Pain
  • Arthritis
  • Tendinopathies (tennis/golfers’ elbow, patellar tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis, etc.)
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Carpal tunnel
  • Nerve entrapments
  • Radiculopathy
  • Pinched nerve
  • Edema/swelling/inflammation
  • Weakness

ART Providers within Premier Orthopaedics:


Location: Paoli

4 Industrial Boulevard, Suite 150
Paoli, PA, 19301
Phone: 610-640-4133
Timothy Corker, DPT, ART (full body)


Location: West Chester

1161 McDermott Drive
West Chester, PA,19380
Phone: 484-356-9401
Michael Wilson, DPT, OCS, ART (full body)


Location: Ridley

501 West MacDade Boulevard, 2nd Floor
Folsom, PA, 19033
Phone: 610.586.7000
John Connors, PT, MDT, ART (full body)


Location: Brinton Lake

300 Evergreen Drive, Suite 220
Glen Mills, PA, 19342
Phone: 610-579-3650
Lauren Dengler, DPT, ART (full body)



Timothy Corker, DPT, ART
Premier Physical Therapist