Massage-like therapy for soft tissue

Stay Fit

March 24, 2006|By MARY BETH REGAN | MARY BETH REGAN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I've been suffering from pain in my neck. Some friends at the gym suggested Active Release Technique. Have you ever heard of it?

Your friends must be on the cutting edge because Active Release Technique is a relatively new way to treat soft-tissue injuries.

In 1988, a Colorado chiropractor named Michael Leahy patented the process for treating soft-tissue injuries and began training health practitioners to use this massage-like therapy.

While it's not widely known among everyday exercisers, ART has caught on with some world-class athletes, especially triathletes, runners and body builders.

To develop his method, Leahy combined a knowledge of anatomy and his training in aeronautical engineering. He focuses on locating and breaking up tissue adhesions caused by injury, repetitive motion or scar tissue, because these adhesions keep muscles from functioning properly. He also developed 500 protocols to treat these adhesions and injuries.

In general, ART is more like deep massage than traditional chiropractic care. But unlike traditional masseurs, ART providers apply tension to muscles and require patients to participate in their care by stretching. This helps to break up adhesions and restore tissue functioning. Also, ART is designed to treat injuries, not as ongoing care.

Scientific literature on ART is scant. Runner's World reported on one study, conducted in 1998, in which 71 percent of patients reported improvement after four weeks of ART treatment. But the magazine noted that the study wasn't randomized and didn't include a control group.

Still, some Baltimore athletes are sold on ART. Hollie Kenney, a professional triathlete who coached at the Johns Hopkins University, today coaches about 150 Baltimore triathletes. After tearing a calf muscle, she sought ART treatment in September from one of the area's few therapists, John J. Davidson.

"It's the latest and greatest," Kenney says. "I just can't say enough good things. ... It was phenomenal and I was able to compete in an Ironman Triathlon in November."

Still, top trainers with organizations such as the Ravens and Orioles declined to comment on ART because they say they aren't certified in the protocols. The American Physical Therapy Association also was unable to locate physical therapists versed in the new therapy.

Leahy's Colorado company maintains a database of providers (activerelease.com), and urges patients to call to verify credentials at 888-396-2727.

Are you a Stay Fit success? If so, share your story. Please send details to fitness@baltsun.com, or via regular mail to Fitness Q&A, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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