My experience with Active Release Therapy

Hello and happy Friday, everyone. I hope some of you have a three day weekend to look forward to. I am certainly looking forward to mine!

I mentioned in a few of my recent posts that I have been doing Active Release Therapy (ART) for the muscular problems in my right leg. To be honest, even though I had been struggling with pain and tightness since before the Richmond marathon AND even though I had heard ART mentioned by plenty of other runners before, it was not my immediate instinct to try it. I am beyond thankful that Cori suggested it to me right when I was getting desperate for a remedy.

For those who haven’t heard of ART or are less familiar with it, here is a website with some basic information. From the site:

“ART is a patented, state of the art soft tissue system/movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Headaches, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, and tennis elbow are just a few of the many conditions that can be resolved quickly and permanently with ART. These conditions all have one important thing in common: they are often a result of overused muscles.”

Essentially, ART can break up the scar tissue that builds up in overused muscles, something that distance runners are prone to quite a lot of.

ART is working wonders on the problems that I was experiencing – problems that I had worried I would be stuck with and would keep me from running for a while. So I thought I would give some significant points to my experience with ART so that maybe they can help others figure out if this treatment may work for them.

The problems I was experiencing

I had a huge range of negative vibes in a huge range of places. It was frustrating. The major areas were the right side of my lower back, my glute, and both the front and side of my hip. At one point I even started to feel soreness in the back of my right knee. The type of pain ranged from a minimal tightness/soreness, to a legitimately painful throbbing, to a tingling burning sensation. The pain would move around day to day and even hour to hour and taking time off from running didn’t even seem to help it.

Shameless selfie taken after an early-morning ART appointment to tell the Instagram world how I feel about running injuries.

Shameless selfie taken after an early-morning ART appointment to tell the Instagram world how I feel about running injuries.

Where I went for ART

I searched online for certified ART provider in my area. Most of them were chiropractors (in order to be certified in ART you have to be licensed to treat soft tissue injuries and conditions) but you may find other types of medical professionals who provide it, just make sure they are certified. The chiropractor I chose had nothing but good reviews and I also noticed that her and her office have a partnership with and were recommended by one of the local running stores, which I thought was a plus.

What the appointment was like

My first appointment lasted an hour and all of my subsequent appointments have lasted a little over half an hour. The first time I went we spent a lot of time talking about the pain I was experiencing and when I was experiencing it in great detail while she took notes. The better you are able to put into words exactly what hurts, when, how, and since when, the better the therapist will be able to target the muscles that need to be repaired.

The treatment itself essentially involves either stretching or moving certain muscles at the same time that the therapist puts hard pressure on them with their fingers. For example, while I am laying on my left side, she brings my left leg up in front of me to the point it feels like a stretch and moves it back in forth in a small range of motion while applying pressure up and down my hamstring. Some of the movements feel good to me, others are actually pretty painful. This is no relaxing Swedish massage, people, it is quick, targeted, and somewhat uncomfortable treatment.

After doing moves involving all the damaged muscle groups the therapist believes to be affected, she has me lay on top of ice packs that are laid across a roller table. The table is automated and has cylinder that rolls under my entire back and butt. This basically gives the muscles a chance to get some ice and a gentle stretch for 10 or 15 minutes. I find this part super relaxing and if I were rich I would buy one of these tables and put it in my house. Seriously.

How much it costs.

I have insurance and seeing a chiropractor counts as a specialist, so I pay a co-pay of $35 per visit. I have asked her how much she charges uninsured patients and apparently that is $55 per visit.

ART is not necessarily a one-and-done miracle cure.

I am an impatient person. I know this. So I went into ART expecting to see some sort of results after the first visit. That wasn’t the case for me and after my first couple of visits (and by couple I do mean two… did I mention I’m impatient?) I got a bit panicky in the way only a runner who thinks they are going to be put off running gets panicky. At that point I asked my chiropractor how long she it typically took to get her patients back to normal and she said about six to eight visits, sometimes a little more.

Oh, I see, you mean it takes time to break up all that scar tissue that I built up over so much more time beating up my body with marathon training? Got it. I realized it had been stupid of me to to be impatient and assume anything would be a one-day, quick fix.

Sure enough though, it has been about six visits now and now I am seeing amazing improvement. I go days with zero tightness or pain – even on days when I exercise or run. And my leg has started feeling strong again. It is because of ART but it is also because I have taken other measures on top of the treatment. I took time off of running, I iced, I stretched and foam rolled and then stretched and foam rolled some more.

I know this post was lengthy and low on pictures but I do hope that it helped somebody out there with their questions about ART. Of course, all of this information is specific to my experience and no two people are necessarily going to have the exact same one.

Have you ever done Active Release for an injury? What did you think? What do you do to keep your muscles healthy while you are training?


4 thoughts on “My experience with Active Release Therapy

  1. I haven’t exactly done ART but I have seen a chiropractor for running injuries and it is amazing. I had never been to a chiropractor before so I was skeptical at first, but he accurately pinpointed the root cause of my issues. All it took was a few weeks of in-office treatment and at home exercises and I was pain free. I will never suffer for months again without seeing if it’s something the chiropractor can help with.

    • Sounds like you and I have had a similar experience. I was hunting down sport medicine specialists so I could have someone tell me if I should stop running and how long when it was suggested to me to try ART at a chiropractor. I can’t believe the difference it has made and am going to make it a part of my routine anytime I am having issues during training.

    • I was fed up with mine too and I am so glad I gave ART a shot. I know I wasn’t injured THAT long but I almost forgot what running and even sitting for prolonged periods pain free felt like. I would definitely recommend it! Let me know if you have any questions about it – I’m no sports medicine expert but I’ve been to 7 appointments in 3 weeks so maybe that counts for something.

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