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Treatment technique could be answer to alleviating chronic pain

By David Freidson | Posted: Monday, September 23, 2013 12:00 am

Active Release Techniques, or ART, is a unique, soft tissue management system that has been around for more than 29 years. Soft tissues can be defined as anything non-boney in the body, for example, tendons, muscles and ligaments.

For the purpose of this article, we will talk about the muscular system. Before a discussion on what ART is, it is important to know some basics on the types of injuries that can occur in body.

Pain is often thought of as acute, or chronic. Acute muscular pain is what is caused after an injury. Injuries occur when a force is applied to the body that is too much for the body to handle.

When most people think of injuries, they think of acute injuries. Acute injuries are when a large force or a macro trauma is applied to the body in a short amount of time. Strains, sprains, muscle tears, broken bones are all acute injuries. Acute injuries can occur with falls, car accidents, sports traumas, etc.

There are many terms that are used synonymously with chronic injuries: Repetitive strain disorders, cumulative trauma disorders, overuse injuries and repetition motion disorders are a few of these terms.

Overuse injuries occur when low force traumas, or microtraumas occur repeatedly over time. Some examples of overuse conditions are tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome and rotator cuff syndrome. Tennis elbow can occur when repeated arm and elbow movements such as with wrenching cause microtraumas to the tissue around the elbow.

The most common microtrauma in modern society is actually due to postural stress. Every decade for the last couple of hundred years we have become more sedentary due to technological advances.

Humans used to be hunters and gatherers. But now, most of our duties at home and at work involve being in a fixed stationary posture. This posture is usually not ergonomically ideal for the body which causes microtraumas in the body. These microtraumas often lead to pain, which then would be classified as a cumulative trauma disorder.

What both acute and chronic injuries have in common, is that scar tissue formation. Many people think of scar tissue as only coming after a surgery, or a laceration type injury, but this is just one cause for scar tissue.

Scar tissue starts forming immediately after an acute injury, and scar tissue from a chronic injury is formed over time. Muscle fibers are supposed to line up like a box of spaghetti, but scar tissue formation in muscles is like a bowl of spaghetti.

Scar tissue is dense connective tissue that causes muscles to become weaker and shorter, which lessens range of motion and decrease strength. Scar tissue in muscles can also cause peripheral nerve entrapments which will cause tingling and numbness.

ART is a technique that reduces scar tissue by using motion and tension. The patient performs an active motion (hence Active Release Technique) while the provider uses a specific tension on the muscle. Many patients describe as a "hurts so good" feeling with ART treatments, which is similar to how deep tissue massage is often described.

ART providers are qualified to diagnose and treat more than 400 structures. Many conditions respond well to ART, such as: Plantar fasciitis, shoulder pain, neck pain, tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome - really any kind of muscular pain. What makes ART so special is that it is often effective on chronic conditions that have been present for years. Conditions that haven't responded from treatments by physical therapists, medication, chiropractors, etc. are frequently resolved with a handful of ART sessions.

There are many different types of providers that can become certified in ART. However, the technique usually attracts providers who use their hands to treat patients, such as: Physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists or athletic trainers. To get certified in ART, the professional must complete extensive hands on instruction and a written/practical test.

ART works for people of all ages and it has especially become popular with elite athletes. Currently, every NFL team has a certified ART practitioner on their staff. ART providers are also on the treatment team for the tri athletes at every Ironman competition.

ART has a division of ART called ART Corporate Solutions in which providers go to companies to do on-site treatments, with the goal of reducing worker's compensation costs, and recordable injuries for the company. The companies that choose to add ART are usually manufacturing type companies that involve a high level of physical demand. Some of the companies that use ART are: GE, Pepsico, Haliburton, Sealy Mattress and ConAgra.

Full disclosure, I am an ART provider. My bachelor's degree was in kinesiology/exercise physiology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, so exercise, movement and the muscles were always fascinating to me. That is why after chiropractic school, one of the first things I did was become certified in ART. To find a provider in your area, just go to www.activerelease.com.

David Freidson is a licensed chiropractor and works out of the Synergy Health & Rehabilitation office in Minnetonka. To learn more, visit www.synergyhealthmn.com or call 952-475-4080.

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