The treatment of soft tissue injuries will never be the same.
Endurance athletes are among the healthiest human beings on the planet. You eat right, exercise, and work hard to get adequate rest. Despite the fact that your cardiovascular system may be in top-notch condition, your muscles are well toned, and body fat is minimal, injuries still accrue. Over months and years, intense training is bound to cause underlying injuries, especially in the soft tissues. Although you may be doing your body good by exercising year-round, small micro-tears and adhesions occur, which, over time, can become an athlete’s Achilles heel.
This is where active release technique (ART) comes in. A movement-based treatment for the soft tissues, this technique began to gain in popularity in the elite running and triathlon crowds in the early aughts. Dr. Scott Duke, a chiropractor and ART expert based in New York City, explains the therapy more specifically, saying, “ART involves a manipulation of the muscles, ligaments, fascia, tendons and nerves using a manual contact for tension and motion of the affected tissues to produce changes in their texture, tension, movement and function.”
As a result of the scar tissue that builds up over time through the repetitive stress of training, injuries and performance deficits often occur. ART helps to break up that scar tissue and restore normal function. “By allowing the muscles to function more efficiently, the athlete becomes more limber,” explains Duke. Indeed, ART has become a staple for the elite and sub-elite runners toeing the line at the New York City Marathon. Even if they aren’t injured, many of them rely on the technique to improve performance.
It is the specific contact and active motion of the athlete that distinguishes ART from other therapies. Usually performed by chiropractic sports physicians, it involves manual pressure applied by the practitioner to work out underlying adhesions. If a nagging IT band is the main issue, the athlete will lay on her side as the practitioner works up the quad to examine the flexibility and texture of the soft tissues. When an abnormality is detected, the athlete is instructed to move the leg in a running motion while the practitioner manually breaks up the scar tissue.
As the technique has quickly gained notoriety, says Duke, competitive and recreational athletes alike are clamoring for ART availability at events across the country. “From the New York City Marathon to Ironman Hawaii, all kinds of events are asking for volunteers trained in ART to come to their events,” says Dr. Duke.
Since endurance athletes hate to be slowed down, regular physical maintenance and injury prevention is an important aspect of the lifestyle. “ART is definitely preventative medicine,” says Duke. He explains that along with the technique, a dynamic movement plan and regular post-run stretching will keep you up and running. “By having a monthly plan that includes ART and these other measures, you’re taking good care of yourself and staying healthy.”
This piece first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Competitor magazine.