Bodywork with a real ART to it

(Originally published in the February/March 2001 issue of Synchronicity Magazine)

By John Geary

I've always been a strong believer in the health benefits of massage therapy and chiropractic treatments. In early January, I experienced a different therapy that has been growing in popularity in recent months: ART.

ART is an acronym for Active Release Techniques. It works with soft muscle tissue to treat injuries to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. ART is used in the successful treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back pain, headaches and whiplash, shoulder problems, sports injuries, numbness and tingling and many other forms of pain.

Dr. Corrado Cultrera is a doctor of chiropractic and registered massage therapist at the Centre for Chiropractic Care. He says ART differs from both of those disciplines, but at the same time, complements them.

"It's not chiropractic and its not massage, although some chiropractors use the technique in their treatments," he says. "While massage also works with muscle tissues, this is a management of soft tissue which has its own technique. The tissue is manipulated differently, giving you different results.

"When there is an injury, the body produces scar tissue to deal with it. It's the easiest way, but not the best way for healing to occur. It acts like a glue, and hooks on to the muscles in the vicinity, preventing them from working properly when that scar tissue is in place."

Dr. Michael Leahy, a U.S. Air Force engineer-turned-chiropractor developed ART by applying engineering principles to healing the human body. Active release does just what its name describes: it helps release those scar tissues and adhesions.

Bodywork professionals learn ART through seminars that combine some theory with a great deal of practical experience. They take refresher courses annually to maintain their active release credentials. That helps them keep abreast of any new advances in the technique.

Cultrera says ART can sometimes be used as a pre-surgery alternative for certain types of conditions.

"With something like carpal tunnel syndrome, surgery may be inevitable, but only as a last resort. Treating it first with a more conservative approach like ART gives people a chance to try a non-invasive alternative that may clear it up."

Even with successful ART treatment, the problem still may return; however, there is a very low probability of that. Leahy reported only a four per cent recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome, following treatment. To lessen the chances of that, Cultrera says patients have to take some responsibility to maintain the healing gains.

"After treatment, a patient has to follow prescribed exercises and stretches, or the problem may return," he says.

While ART may help hockey players and sprinters (1996 Olympic gold medals Donovan Bailey used it in Atlanta), weight lifters and marathoners, ART is not just for athletes. Many people use it to heal non-athletic pain.

"I treat many office workers, computer users who develop problems from repetitive typing all day," says Cultrera. "Typing can build up scar tissue, also."

As a regular computer user who contends daily with a case of "mouse arm" I could relate to what I was hearing in the interview. Throw in a swimmer's rotator cuff injury in that same shoulder, and you can bet I was willing to try ART.

Some manipulations were uncomfortable at times, but in less than 10 minutes, he had restored a range of motion in my right arm that I had not experienced for years.

Regular treatments last between 10 and 20 minutes and while a patient may experience some relief after two to three sessions, depending on the condition, further treatment is usually necessary. Conditions will not normally be cured in two or three treatments.

For more information about ART, call 237-5200; or type "Active Release Technique" in your computer's search engines and investigate the websites that pop up.