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The Killer 15-minute Massage: Active Release Technique (ART)

Updated on May 16, 2008

There are so many styles of massage, ranging from the most relaxing rub-down to specific treatment for sports or injuries. If there is one "magic bullet" in massage, however, it's Active Release Therapy (ART).

When I mention sports massage or Rolfing in conversation, people nod their heads in recognition. When I say "ART," I get a blank look.

ART is loosely related to myofascial release, or the release of the network of soft connective tissue in the body. However, ART is a patented technique that treats tightness in or problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves, quickly and effectively. ART is based on the fact that muscles do not work in isolation. Muscles only work properly if the surrounding connective tissue is healthy and functional, and vice versa. Specific injuries almost always mean overuse and extreme tightness in a particular muscle or muscle group, which in the long term can also mean scar tissue in the problem area.

While I use ART to treat and prevent injuries related to endurance sports, it's ideal for treating all kinds of problems, whether you sit for hours on a bike or in an office chair: Headaches, back pain, neck tightness, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, and tennis elbow, and infinite, less well-known injuries.

When you go to an ART practitioner, he or she uses your description and a series of physical assessments to diagnose your problem. Then, the practitioner selects a protocol consisting of the specific moves designed to treat and resolve that problem. Out of 500 available moves, you might only need between one and five moves.

ART focuses on the interactions between different areas of soft tissue that may not seem related at first. For example, your shoulder hurts when you rotate it, but "releasing" the muscle underneath your armpit (sub-scapular region) fixes the problem!

The unique aspect is that frequently, ART involves you moving your limb, head, or relevant body part in opposition to the practitioner's touch. He or she tells you exactly what to do, and supports your movement, but you are an active participant.

So, who is the best ART practitioner? Well, Dan Selstad of Solana Beach, CA gets my vote, and that of the local pros, to boot. Dan regularly treats world-class, professional athletes, such as triathletes, ball players, golfers, and more. (He also treats your cube-mate or the kid next door, with equal focus and expertise.)

Dan Selstad Works on Luke Walton of the Lakers

I frequent Dan Selstad's office throughout the triathlon season, as many of my friends and fellow athletes do. A standard visit takes 20 minutes or less.

A few years ago, Jurgen Zack (a German professional triathlete on his way to another Ironman World Championship) was unable to run for several weeks, due to an injury in his achilles heel. With one month to go before his championship race, he was out of commission. He was anti-massage until a fellow athlete urged him to see Dan. Dan spent one session digging into Jurgen's overdeveloped calf, and voila! Zack was back on the road.

Another gratifying success story: A high school football player injured his shoulder, and suddenly couldn't lift his right arm at all. He had been to an orthopedic doctor, a neurologist, and a physical therapist, none of whom could figure out the problem. Even Dan was mystified at first. However, after some very careful work, a couple of months later the guy was on the field in full force.

Two things you should know about ART:

  1. It can hurt. It doesn't necessarily hurt, but if a muscle or tendon is injured, and you dig straight into the problem, there may be some pain. (Sound like life?) However, the pain is extremely brief with ART, usually a few seconds at the most (unlike with Rolfing, which can go on for minutes at a time). The benefits are so worth the cost!

  2. Watch out for inexperienced practitioners! Many chiropractors and physical therapists claim to be trained in ART. However, they may have "trained" by reading a book, or having treatment done on themselves, and then attempting to practice it on others. Make sure your practitioner is a certified ART practitioner.

Why wait to treat that nagging pain in your wrist, or a knot in your neck? Check your local business directory, or visit the Active Release Therapy website, for certified practitioners in your area.


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    • profile image

      Jennifer 4 years ago

      @Judith. Did you find anyone in Santa Cruz? I live there and was trying to find a Barnes trained therapist or ART.

    • restrelax profile image

      restrelax 5 years ago from Los angeles CA

      Great information is given on hub.I am glad to read this info. Keep it up.

    • profile image

      Judith in Santa Cruz, CA 6 years ago

      I've had myofascial release therapy by someone certified by John Barnes, founder of that technique. From what you describe, I don't get what's different between the two, except maybe a lot more marketing and a patent for ART. I had to be active when she did things, too, and yes, it wasn't a feel-good massage for sure, but it was the most effective thing I ever had. That was several years ago, after a car accident (and trying to find relief for back muscle spasms for years after that). I just learned about ART in looking for someone who's a registered PT, so insurance will cover the treatment. So I'm fortunate to have local people certified in both methods. One I know is great, but she's not a PT covered by insurance. That's why I'd like to know how ART compares to the Barnes technique, because the ART-certified PT would be covered, I think. Thanks for your help and the good info.

    • parduc profile image

      parduc 7 years ago from Kos island, Greece

      Great article, thanks!


    • profile image

      accident claims stockport 7 years ago

      I have scoliosis and my wife has chronic artritis and we both have a lot of back pain, after reading this I am going to try and find a local ART therapist near me in stockport.

    • MikeNV profile image

      MikeNV 7 years ago from Henderson, NV

      That's funny... "I have learned ART in the seminar". That's like learning Rolfing in a weekend retreat. Chiropractors scare me... trained massage therapists do not. Big difference. Thanks... this is a good read. I've spent way too much in my life on massage... but it always helps more than any Doctor ever could.

    • profile image

      chiropractic student 7 years ago

      I have learned ART in the seminar,and certified in spine. I have been practicing since then on friends in my school. Outcome is i have to say "Amazing". I can feel tense muscles released in 1-2 protocols which could'nt have been treated with other methods. You don't feel a pain if working on non injured muscles. However, if working on overused muscles, you will feel sever pain for 1-4 seconds, then pains are gone, and this means scar tissue has been broken. After ART treatment, you will feel lots better.

    • Dianamite profile image

      Dianamite 8 years ago from Carlsbad, CA

      Yes, it's similar - but it's also more. The foam roller lets you do myofascial release (release of muscle + connective tissue) on yourself. ART is *active* myofascial release. It's different in that it a) focuses on relationships between muscles in different areas (e.g., underarm and neck); and b) involves active movement by the patient - such as moving your arm out and backward while the practitioner releases a front-of-shoulder muscle.

      ...So you can get to hard-to-reach knots, and work out bigger dysfunctions more quickly, with ART.

      Hope that helps!

    • casey kaldal profile image

      casey kaldal 8 years ago

      Is this similar to using a foam roller?