State of ART
by Ray Britt
I was having my best season ever, and then potential disaster struck. Against better judgment, I had decided to run one last race before competing in the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii. The race was successful, but for one problem - the sharp heel pain that emerged later that afternoon, making it impossible to walk without pain. I boarded the plane to Hawaii not knowing if I'd be able to run effectively at the Ironman, but I knew that there was a chance that Active Release Therapy (ART) could save yet another race for me.
Active Release Therapy
Developed in 1991 by P. Michael Leahy, DC, CCSP, who is also a multiple-Ironman triathlon finisher, ART is a soft tissue technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. As Leahy describes it, "Over-used muscles and other soft tissues can cause your body to produce tough, dense scar tissue in the affected area. As scar tissue builds up, muscles become shorter and weaker, tension on tendons causes tendonitis, and nerves can become trapped. This can cause reduced range of motion, loss of strength, and pain. With ART abnormal tissues are treated by combining precisely directed tension with very specific patient movements."The combination of tension and movement is designed to break down the built-up scar tissue that causes these problems. It's literally an active release of scar tissue that causes injuries for runners and other athletes.
How it Works: ART in Action
Almost immediately after landing in Kona I made my way to the ART treatment tent in search of a small miracle - to restore my foot to good running form. There, I met Isabelle Mallette from Montreal, one of ART's select chiropractors who have met demanding certification requirements, including knowledge of up to 500 proprietary techniques. Isabelle tested my left foot's range of pain-free motion (which was very limited), and checked all the angles. Then she went to work. Though I'm not a medical practitioner, as a patient, I'd describe the ART technique this way: a path is traced from the pain source to the actual causes, which may be weak or compromised tissue elsewhere, then ART focuses on the areas of weakness to ultimately relieve the pain.
Isabelle probed and found the right area, then instructed me to move my foot in a sweeping motion. As I did so, she gently but firmly pressed weak soft tissue in the opposite direction to break down scar tissue. Suddenly, there was a gentle 'pop', a release that I felt internally, and she felt externally. That's it! The actions were repeated in different locations, and each time a greater breakdown of scar tissue resulted.
At the end, I was elated to find that I had more range of motion and less pain. I came back the next day, and it was even better. By race day, Isabelle and the ART technique had transformed me from feeling injured to feeling ready to pounce. After initially fearing that a marathon finish might be impossible, I not only finished, but ran well.
Benefits for Runners and Other Athletes
Would you benefit from ART treatment? My rule of thumb is that whenever I feel an injury coming on, or it's already upon me, or if my running form just doesn't feel quite right - and you know that feeling - I seek ART treatment. Whether you're seeking to eradicate a pesky calf injury or need a full-body tune-up that makes you feel as if you've been removed from a straitjacket (what a feeling!), try it.
Several of my runner friends - all in their 40s - have begun to feel various effects of overused muscles and soft tissue, and have discovered benefits after receiving ART treatment. Two friends who had struggled with nagging injuries ultimately achieved marathon personal bests, and another who had been almost completely sidelined by a hip injury was able to qualify for the Boston Marathon again.
ART is not always a miracle cure that restores athletes to top form, but it can provide relief to make training a better experience. A friend who swam up to 16,000 yards per day in college now has underlying structural shoulder issues that may ultimately require surgery. Until then, he uses ART treatment to swim again with greater flexibility and less pain.
Whether using ART in search of personal bests or just more comfortable training, my friends and I are in world class company: Olympic skating gold medalist Jamie Sale, 5000 meter US champion Marla Runyan, and many professional athletes are regular ART patients.
Getting my ART treatment before the 25th Anniversary Ironman Triathlon World Championship this past October in Kona, Hawaii, I looked over to see Lori Bowden getting her own ART treatment. They did something right . . . she won the women's race the next day!
To learn more about ART, visit Active Release.
About the Author: Raymond Britt is a telecom executive and a father of four who discovered running and endurance sports in 1994. Since then, he has completed 32 marathons, including eight consecutive Boston Marathons and 20 Ironman triathlons.