Active Release Technique & Updates

Posted in Arieanna & Ianiv, Opinion, Science

For the past month, I have been getting Active Release Technique/Therapy (ART) sessions done on my neck by a chiropractor in North Van.

ART is a massage technique which focuses on the soft tissue system: muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. All the things that I have problems with.

My chronic pain has been quite a burden for the past 6 months. Although I was making some progress healing from the second whiplash injury in January, the muscle tension and scarring were still a major problem, and in some ways were getting worse as the muscles grew weaker. I had been having sporradic success with the NUCCA treatment in completely alleviating my TOS (pinched nerve in arm), but it was not consistent. When the back of my neck became very tender from the tension – about 3 months ago – I started to have even greater issues because my neck would simply get tired holding up my head.

After I recovered from the Norwalk virus, I decided to switch to a new chiropractor in a clinic that also has physio, massage and other therapies in a hope that a team would have better success in treating my problems. The chiropractor introduced me to ART, hoping it would have some success in breaking up the massive amounts of scar tissue and fibrosis. The scar tissue was making my muscles tense (shorter) and weak, and trapping the nerve in my arm.

My ART treatment is fast – just a couple of minutes, plus an adjustment. Right now my body can’t take really long treatments since my overall pain level is too high – if it flared up more, it would be too much for me to handle. So, we focus on smaller areas at a time.

ART involves pressing on certain parts of my muscles and having me move in certain ways. The treatments are aggressive – the pressure is hard, and the muscles are stretched far. Sometimes it hurts, but the effects are immediate.

The first few treatments were focused on the sides of my neck and the scar tissue along the left side of my neck/shoulder/arm. 90% of my problems lie on the left side, and much of the pain on the right is referred.

The first few treatments were hard. I saw noticable improvement in my posture, but with ups and downs of tenderness and swelling. About two weeks ago we switched focus to the back of my head/neck. This is where most of my pain is located – it’s what gets sore first, gets tired first, and causes the most pain when it gets bad. The area is not as badly scarred or tight as the sides of my neck, but focusing on the pain centre has been helpful in my overall well being.

Each treatment (2-3 times per week) has had very noticable improvement in decreasing my pain level. The tension is dissipating in the area and some of the problems that were surfacing from the treatment as I flared up – headaches, jaw ache – are dissipating now as well. I have not had more than some minor pain in my arm in 4 weeks – and no longer take medication for nerve pain.

My only current frustration is that after a treatment I feel amazing. But I do swell. And when it comes time to go to sleep, just putting my head on the pillow – foam or down – is horrid. The act of trying to go to sleep causes me pain and some of the tension returns. It’s rather frustrating. I hesitate to take medication to sleep but may have to. Any other day I sleep like a baby – just that first day with the swelling is difficult. And the tension, at this stage in my recovery, does not dissipate on its own, so I end up being tense and in pain again until another treatment. I use a lot of ice, as well as painkillers, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, but it doesn’t seem to remove the sensitivity from the treatment that first night.

I am still too early in my recovery to begin any type of physiotherapy. Getting to that stage is my first goal – once the pain is down to a 3 or 4 out of 10 (I’m usually 6-10) then I am well enough to build up the lost strength. It will take a few months.

I plan to have 3 treatments next week in the hope that I can make enough progress so that my week in Chicago will be tolerable – I expect there will be a lot of pain, but making it manageable is my top priority.

It’s been a long year – this time last year was the beginning of my neck pain journey, and it’s been a very tough one. I have gone through more pain than I thought possible, have been very stressed as a result, have had to give up almost all activities, and have had to bear the financial burden of all the treatments. The medical system has frustrated me extensively, and I find it hard as a patient to know whom to trust and what is right for me. I didn’t always get the right advice, and have suffered and deteriorated as a result. Most doctors and therapists are insular, or biased, and sometimes what you need is a well-rounded approach. Someone to give you options. But, without landing on it yourself by chance, you can wander from one option to the next as I have done.

I am truly thankful that the issues with my arm can be treated without medication or other invasive means, and that I can expect to recover from that. I will probably always have some issues with my neck, but with many months of work, I hope to regain a more normal lifestyle. My goal is to be able to hike again next summer.

For anyone out there with chronic pain, I understand what a hard journey it is, and what a confusing one. Most people will tell you that nothing can be done to help you, or will give you empty promises. Only you can know what is best for you, but it can be hard to find the right path. My suggestion is to keep going and to talk to as many people as possible. If I could redo this past year (or 3, for my arm), I would have taken it upon myself to get more opinions from therapists, chiropractors and other physicians before deciding upon any one treatment. Your health is more important to you than it is to any doctor, so only you can push to learn about it and to understand what you can do.

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6 Responses to “Active Release Technique & Updates”

  1. Kris says:

    Sorry you’re going through this. I suffered a whiplash in 2001 and still experience pain. I’ve found deep tissue massage to be the best (unfortunately after several years of nearly useless PT). I’m goint to look up ART. Best of luck!

  2. jw says:

    Have you read anything about thoracic outlet syndrome? {TOS}
    you can read about it on this forum.
    can be caused by whiplash, repetitive motion injuries, and others.

  3. Julius says:

    Why are you going to a chiropractor to get muscle work done??? ART is just another massage technique done by most if not all RMT’s in BC. Plus RMT’s will offer a variety of techniques to settle irritated muscles.

  4. In answer to Julius’ query
    >>Why are you going to a chiropractor to get muscle work done??? ART is just another massage technique done by most if not all RMT’s in BC. Plus RMT’s will offer a variety of techniques to settle irritated muscles<<

    1) Because our systems are all connected is the simple answer.
    2) Many chiropractors also perform soft tissue work. There is an overlap between massage therapy, physical therapy, and chiropractic.
    3) In the US, often chiropractors have massage therapist working with them in-office.

    Sadly in most states of the US it's easier have massage therapy treatment paid for by the insurance company when a chiropractor bills rather than when a massage therapist does the billing.

    As the sole practitioner (licensed massage therapist) at Much Kneaded Massage of NYC, I’ve chosen not to work directly with insurance companies. The reimbursement level is ridiculously low. It would be difficult to survive in New York City!

  5. PT health says:

    In addition to Julius’ comment:
    Active Release Technique (ART) is an advanced, patented manual hands-on type of therapy that treats damaged soft tissue and injuries. The term ‘soft tissue’ means muscles, nerves, tendons and the fascia surrounding the muscles. Over the years, Active Release Therapy has proven to be a breakthrough in treating many soft tissue injuries.

    Active Release Technique has successfully resolved many injuries that were deemed untreatable. Specific injuries that have been treated with Active Release Therapy include repetitive strains, muscle sprain, joint dysfunction, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, chronic back pain, shoulder pain, knee problems, tennis elbow, shin splits and joint dysfunction. Most of the joint and muscle related problems happen due to overuse, and a series of Active Release treatments can give relief and cure such problems. The technique involves stretching muscles and tendons, and applying pressure to breakdown scar tissue to increase the flow of blood to the affected areas.

    Hope this would help. Thanks!

  6. In 2002 I discovered Active Release Techniques, ART, a medically patented technique developed by Dr. Michael Leahy. I was amazed at the ART treatment I personally received which immediately resolved my chronic shoulder, knee, and ankle problems that had responded minimally to other types of care. ART gave me my life back. I got my “game” back, I began running, cycling, swimming, etc.. I give all the credit to ART.

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