Then you can actually feel better instead of pretending to feel better

Got Aches and Pains?

In this blog post I’m going to share with you my thoughts on what many consider, as it is advertised ” , the gold standard of soft tissue treatment”. Active release therapy. You may see this modality used very often with Chiropractors as the inventor of ART (the acronym for Active Release Therapy) is Dr.Leahy a chiropractor.  ART courses and practitioners are highly sought out as the courses are split into basic modules: upper, lower, and spinal with advanced palpation courses and biomechanic courses available. In this article I’m going to address how ART is different than other soft tissue or traditional massage modalities and when it would be useful to seek out ART to help you compared to another system helping you save time, money, and most importantly getting out of pain so you can feel GREAT!

As a Tacoma massage therapist with quite the unlimited education budget I have had the opportunity to attend pretty much every manual therapy seminar, continued education seminar, or purchase any information product I’m interested in learning. Since I started my pursuit of manual therapy (massage) for clinical reasons (helping people in pain specifically) my attendance at seminars has simultaneously complimented my school education. ART seminars are a big investment (they average about $2,400.00 a module…lower or upper….or spinal you need all three to be a “Full body practitioner),  a full body ART practitioner has invested a minimum of eight thousand dollars without traveling expenses included so what does all that training allow them to do for YOU?

What it boils down to

 What the training is like?

ART practitioners are sent a manual and a DVD to learn the anatomy and practice the protocols before they arrive at the seminar. Average seminars include 80-100 protocols and during the three days each protocol is reviewed and attendees practice the protocols with an instructor usually going round robin with the different instructor. Every instructor teaches differently, I understand better with anatomy and easy catch phrases like “scalenes are friends with SCM’s” or “superior oblique same side” but not everyone does. The instructors are mostly chiropractors as Dr.Leahy created this system to be used in complimentary with adjustment but there are physical therapists and massage therapists who also participate in teaching ART courses.

It’s interesting to watch the Chiro’s and PT’s duke it out. Not my battle.

After a few days of going through all the protocols and practicing (it is pretty intense) you are tested by an instructor from a random ten of the 80-100 protocols and must pass with a 90 percent or higher. Grading is based on correction location, palpation, touch, full range of motion, and knowledge of the structure as well as intent. When I studied for my test I was so stressed and studied so much I barely slept and had nightmares with the few hours of sleep that I did sleep. One of the most stressful times of my life. I did pass with a 93% but it was definitely one experience I’ll never forget.

What did I think?

ART is really something called “pin and stretch” in massage. The difference is that in massage, or at least my program, pin and stretch is not explored very in depth or specifically. I’ve heard a lot of therapists says “ART is just pin and stretch” and that’s what I thought at first and though it is “just pin and stretch” however it is a very in depth thoughtful look at anatomy on how to specifically target different sliding layers of the muscles and fascia as well as protocols for nerve entrapment and ligament work for these pin and stretch or “ART protocols”.

While pin and stretch is usually large areas,  ART specifically uses a thumb contact and aims for one very small area of tissue. Thumbs are easily injured and not many therapists like to use their thumbs so becoming good with ART and not injure your thumb takes a lot of work and some protocols that are deeper into the muscles especially on a larger person are extremely hard to do. ART actually takes a cocking of the wrist and generating the force with your body to produce the force which I have not seen anyone teach elsewhere and couldn’t figure out how to do it from watching the DVD. In fact I severely injured my thumb practicing for the seminar because I didn’t know how to use the specific technique they were teaching.

ART is extremely effective for resolving specific sites of soft tissue problems (I’d say dysfunction if eyes didn’t glaze over), but any form of treatment is always based on the practitioner just as any martial art style you use is based on how you are as a person. At the seminar I heard countless stories on how someone had “ART done to them” and it didn’t work and they had to see a better ART practitioner.

I don’t use ART to fix all the problems that work through my door in fact it’s probably third down my list but I still use it and will take all the courses because it is unique in it asks the client to move themselves into the position that is their barrier of  their range of motion.

What do you mean? 

Yesterday, I had a client come in with shoulder pain specifically above her shoulder blade on the right side. The pain started to move down to her lats (armpit muscles), back of the shoulder and sometimes down her hand.

Super common aggravated structure the levator scap. Look familiar?

There were many ways I could have approached this but I simply ART’d the structures and it was done in 20 seconds. Average ART sessions are 15 minutes, if it doesn’t fix it in 15 minutes and have immediate relief ART is not going to fix it or the practitioner is on the wrong structure. The disadvantage of ART is if bones are “out of place” or stiff ART can help the issue but it usually requires force to bring the bones back into position while other manual therapy techniques can release not only the muscular structure but bring the bones back into their proper position. ART is also extremely specific so if someone has many problems you’re better off using a broader method. I almost think of ART as a sniping system, great and fast if you want to shoot and pack up but not so great if you have a whole army to take down.


I have no specific alliance to any system but at the same time I recognize the value of each system, ART is not your end all be all to treatment but it a nice specific system that is effective and time efficient. Worth the money for me to learn because I like it and its look at anatomy. Worth the investment for you to get treatment from someone who practices ART? Depends on your pain pattern and how much work you need done. If you have one specific spot or a few and want it treated quickly it’s a good start. However, it doesn’t do much to change the driver of the irritation which is another long blog post. Got questions? Email me at befittacoma@gmail,com or post below.





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