Normal muscle acts like a bundle of rubber bands, able to contract and lengthen without restriction. Scarred muscle loses this ability, behaving more like a bundle of rubber bands with globs of glue stuck to them. In other words, the muscle can’t expand and contract and can’t slide freely. This leads to weakness, tightness, and often extreme pain. Because certain muscles have nerves that pass through them, scar tissue can build-up and entrap nerves causing symptoms like tingling, numbness, weakness and pain.

There are four basic processes that cause muscle damage and scar-tissue adhesions:

  1.     Injuries – tearing of muscle fibers from a strain or a crushing of soft tissue from an impact.
  2.     Micro trauma – accumulation of small muscle tears over time.
  3.     Hypoxia – when a muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen, scar tissue forms because the cells that produce scar tissue (fibroblasts) become more active. The body thinks it’s injured, even if it isn’t. When muscle is chronically contracted, like the neck muscles on a long bike ride the contraction keeps blood out of muscle and the fibroblasts may produce scar tissue in muscle that has not been crushed or torn.
  4.     Friction – during movement, muscles must slide against other structures, muscles, nerves etc. Compressive loading can lead to the accumulation of scar tissue between structures.

Active Release Technique (ART) is a collection of different “hands-on” soft-tissue techniques that, among other benefits, treat alterations in tissue texture and tension. ART actually “cleans out” the muscle adhesion and scar tissue that contribute to muscle weakness and pain. An ART practitioner uses their hands to apply pressure and smooth out the muscle as the patient takes his/her own limb through a range of motion. This allows the practitioner to treat the muscle as it’s working, resulting in smoother, healthier tissue relatively quickly.

Let’s look at Carpal Tunnel syndrome, an increasingly common injury that has expanded beyond the workplace to the gym. Symptoms of this syndrome include pain, numbness and tingling into the hand caused by nerve entrapment. An ART practitioner will find where the nerve entrapment is located, whether it is in the neck, shoulder, forearm or wrist and break-up the adhesion, releasing the entrapped nerve and ultimately alleviating the symptoms.

Conditions successfully treated with ART include:

  •     Runners knee, meniscal tears, iliotibialband syndrome
  •     Rotator cuff injuries, plantar fascitis
  •     Sciatica, temporal mandibular joint dysfunction, recurrent sprains and strains
  •     Tendonitis, tendonosis and other soft tissue inflammation disorders of the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, & foot
  •     Neck, mid-back and low back pain

Commonly asked questions and answers:

Q.  How soon can I expect results?

A.  In most cases following the first treatment a patient will experience a positive result. This may be an increased range of motion, less pain, increased muscle strength, or decreased numbness and tingling.

Q.  Once the problem is resolved what are the chances of the problem returning?

A.  If the patient is advised as to any lifestyle modifications and follows through with the prescribed exercises/stretches, the likelihood of the condition recurring is very low; a reported recurrence rate of only 4% in a carpal tunnel study of which half (2%) had not followed through with their exercises.

References:    Leahy PM, Mock LE. Myofascial Release Technique and mechanical compromise of peripheral nerves of upper extremity, Chiropractic Sports Med. 1992;6:139-50.
Goss K,How to bounce back from training injuries fast, Muscle Media 2000, July 1997 issue.
Hyman G, The ART of recovery: Energy Magazine, July 2002 issue.
Necheff J, A.R.T Therapy, The Toronto Sun, Thursday Jan. 9 issue.

Dr. Stephanie Adey
BSc. Hons, A.R.T., Acupuncture, D.C.
Chiropractor  Printed: July 2003
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