In the coming months we’ll be exploring injury prevention and treatment a little bit more on this blog, kicking off with some information on Active Release Techniques(otherwise known as ART® therapy). Very well known and widely used in North America, ART has yet to become fully understood throughout most of Europe. But is has a lot to offer CrossFit athletes, so naturally, we thought we’d better share…
What is ART?
Essentially ART is a means of manipulating soft tissue to restore its integrity after muscles have been shortened or weakened (or where there’s a build up of scar tissue) due to overuse. By doing this it can free up nerves that have been compressed, relieve pain and increase mobility, sometimes almost immediately, as well as improve poor biomechanics in the long term.
How exactly does ART work?
One thing you do need to know: you’ll be pulled about a bit! Fibrous adhesions (let’s just call them knotted bits of muscle) don’t go away without a little force and movement.
“To treat a muscle with ART, the muscle is shortened and a manual tension is applied to the muscle by a therapist’s fingers,” says Newcastle- based ART expert, Thomas Feeney. “The muscle is then actively lengthened by the person being treated, while the tension on the muscle is held in place. The treatment hurts a bit, although most patients describe it as a ‘good hurt’. It feels like a stretch that you need, but can’t do yourself. When a muscle is tight, the technique works by increasing the nervous system’s tolerance to stretch the muscle.”
One of the best bits of ART is that there seems to be a specific ‘protocol’ for every piece of anatomy, whether it’s muscle, nerve or ligament. It can also be used very effectively in conjunction with other various nerve, muscle and fascial-related techniques. Just because you’re seeking ART treatment, doesn’t mean you can’t have chiropractic treatment for example. It’s just that it might help reduce symptoms faster.
When was ART invented / developed?
This isn’t some kind of ancient teaching that has been passed down through generations - Active Release Techniques were developed in the 1980s by a chiropractor in Colorado called Mike Leahy. In fact, it’s mostly chiropractors who advocate it, adding it to their repertoire of skills, many insisting that it’s one of the quickest ways to get things moving smoothly again. Though there are some doubters who suggest the evidence of ART’s magic is slim, the increased recognition speaks volumes. Almost every professional sports team in North America uses ART before and after competitions. Training in ART only became available in Europe in 2009, though it’s now routinely used by medical staff at Everton and Tottenham Hotspur football clubs, and professional cycling and athletics teams in the UK.
What can you expect during an ART session?
Does it hurt? Well, that obviously depends on your pain threshold. The general consensus with ART is that it is a similar level of discomfort, at points, to that of a deep tissue massage. CrossFitters tend to be fairly tough about enduring short periods of soreness for long-term gain though, so we think you’ll survive. What’s more, you can always tell the practitioner to reduce or increase the pressure and they can react immediately.
Injuries that respond well to ART
According to ART expert Tom Feeney who practises in Newcastle, England (whitleybaychiropractic.co.uk/), there are some issues for which ART is particularly effective. These include, but aren’t confined to:
- Chronic muscle tightness: ART can quickly loosen most muscle tightness. It is the equivalent of stretching every day for two months
- Spinal problems: ART provides a quick relief for a stiff neck or back.
- Tightness in the extremities: tight hip muscles or ankle ligaments can be helped by treating with ART.
- Overtrained muscles/ tendons: shoulder impingements or rotator cuff injuries, hamstring pulls, Achilles’ problems and pain under the foot.
- Repetitive strain injuries: tennis elbow, shin splints and De Quervain’s tenosynovitis can improve.
Look out for our next blog which will be going into a little more detail about how, when and where CrossFitters can benefit from ART.