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Active Release Technique (ART) is making news! Articles in mainstream magazines like Men’s Journal and newspapers like the Wall Street Journal are introducing readers to this very effective—yet still little-known—hands-on therapy. So what exactly is ART? And what can it do for you?

At the most basic level, ART uses a specific type of massage and movement to promote healing and reduce pain in muscles, tendons, ligaments and other connective tissue. Carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain and runner’s knee are some of the more common conditions that respond well to ART. New York City chiropractor and ART therapist Keren Day told Men’s Journal, “Tight, dysfunctional muscles are tugging and pulling at the joint or irritating nerves, and often that’s what is causing the injury.”

ART therapists are experts on how the body’s musculoskeletal system works and know that treating one area can make a difference in the amount of pain felt in another. For example, the psoas muscle, which connects your hip to your spine, can become shortened in those who sit a lot during the day. This causes the pelvis to tilt out of alignment, making the muscles in the lumbar region have to work extra hard to try to keep your hips at the proper angle, leading to chronic low back pain. An ART therapist will dig their thumbs deep into the psoas to release the tension in the muscle, taking the strain off the muscles in the lower back. Day says, “Without addressing the psoas, most lower back pain will always be chronic, and most MDs don’t even know what the psoas is.”

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Jessica Tranchina, a certified ART therapist explains that although the ART technique has long been used by professional athletes, it can be particularly useful for people who spend long hours behind a desk suffering pain in the neck, shoulder and back. But don’t expect treatment to necessarily be a pleasant experience. “This is quite different from a massage,” Tranchina said. “It’s not relaxing, in fact it hurts.”

ART therapy involves the practitioner pressing deep into the body’s soft tissue to break up scar tissue, remove adhesions and slowly stretch shortened muscles to release the trapped nerves that are contributing to chronic pain.

Boston Magazine recently interviewed Dr. Kate Kelly, from Active Recovery Boston, who is an ART therapist. Kelly said, “Problems such as headaches, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, sciatica, knee pain, and plantar fasciitis are just a few examples of soft tissue injuries. Scar tissue is often an underlying component to injuries, whether the injury is acute, chronic, traumatic, or overuse related. ART is highly effective for locating and eliminating scar tissue.” She added, “Truly anyone can develop soft tissue injuries through trauma, stress, or overuse of muscles.”

Many chiropractors who work regularly with athletes are trained in ART, so ask yours if he or she thinks it may be a good addition to your regular adjustments. If you suffer from chronic musculoskeletal pain, adding ART therapy may be the answer.

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