Active Release Technique

Last reviewed by Dr.Mary on September 20th, 2019.

What is Active Release Technique?

The Active Release Technique is a particular therapy that is based on movement and manipulation of the soft tissues. This technique was developed by a doctor with the name of Michael Leahy, being used today as treatment for a wide range of medical problems, related to muscles and tendons, ligaments and fascia, and nerves. The active release technique is often employed in the chiropractic field, being appreciated for its beneficial effects over a person’s health.

Doctor Michael Leahy was the one to notice the connection between the symptoms experienced by the patient and the handling of the soft tissues. He managed to improve the symptoms of the patients through the active release technique, obtaining complete healing in 90% of the cases. Among the conditions that can now be successfully treated with the active release technique, there are: tennis elbow, hamstrings problems, sciatica, Achilles tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, bulging disc, biceps tendonitis, frozen shoulder and plantar fasciitis.


The purpose of the active release technique is to treat any medical condition that is caused by the adhesions formed between the different muscle fibers or by the presence of excessive scar tissue. This means that the active release technique can be used with the purpose of treating problems related to the muscle body and the tendon but also for those that appear in the ligaments, fascia or nerves.

The active release technique is looking to guarantee that all soft tissues have full range of motion, without being impeded by the presence of adhesions or scar tissue. It also seeks to release nerves that have been entrapped, as well as other vascular structures or lymph nodes. Last, but not least, another purpose of the active release technique is to guarantee the optimal functioning of the soft tissues, increasing their resilience against future damage.


The first thing that the specialist in the active release technique does is perform a physical examination, with the purpose of assessing if there are any adhesions or tensions in the soft tissues. With a thorough knowledge of the human anatomy, the therapist will then use the manual contact in order to lengthen the soft tissues that have been shortened, thus bringing them back to their normal tension and eliminating adhesions or scar tissue. There are three things that the specialist examines and seeks to improve, meaning texture, tightness and mobility in the soft tissues.

How is the Active Release Technique performed?

In performing the active release technique, the therapist will make use of the hand pressure in order to break the adhesions that are present in the soft tissues. The technique is performed with regular stretches, the moving direction being similar to the one the venous and lymphatic systems functions. In some cases, the opposite direction might be used for the active release, but this depends from one patient to the other and the condition that is being treated.

The forces applied through the hand pressure by the therapist can vary in intensity and type of application, all of them being used however with the purpose of addressing the repetitive strains. The hand manipulation also acts on the soft tissues that have been subjected to cumulative trauma and also on the lesions that have been generated by constant pressure or tension.

The active release technique develops on different levels – during the first levels, the manipulation is performed solely by the therapist. After that, the patient will become an active participant to the therapy, applying the specific tension on the soft tissues by himself/herself. Studies have demonstrated that the involvement of the patient in the active release technique guarantees a better outcome for the condition that is being treated.


On average, you can expect to pay between $30 and $50 for a treatment session with the active release technique. However, the overall costs may vary, according to severity of the condition and how much has the soft tissue being affected by the presence of adhesions or scars. Also, you can expect the costs to vary from one clinic to the other and from one practitioner to the other.

What to expect

In the initial session, the therapist will work on identifying the sites where there are problems that have to be solved with the active release technique. Apart from that, the therapist will take your medical history, making the first session last around half an hour or even one hour. After the identification of the problem areas has been completed, you can expect each session to last around ten or fifteen minutes. The relief from the symptoms experienced is obtained after several sessions and you can expect a full improvement somewhere between three and six weeks.

The improvements are noticeable, as most patients declare that their range of motion has increased and that they suffer from considerably less pain or no pain at all. Others have declared that their muscles have become stronger, while some patients have reported to disappearance of neurological symptoms (numbness, tingling).

Active Release Technique Certification

If you are interested in performing this technique, you will need to become certified. The active release technique certification is available to a wide range of medical specialists, including chiropractors, physical therapist and massage therapists. Those who train athletes and doctors of similar specialties can also become certified and practice this method. The course of the certification is based on theoretical knowledge and practical workshops; at the end of the course, participants are required to take an exam in order to provide their knowledge of the recently-learned technique. The maintaining of the certification is regulated by the annual attendance of ART seminars and the passing of specific exams.

The Effectiveness of the Active Release Technique

Tennis elbow

In order to improve the symptoms caused by the tennis elbow, you need to apply pressure on the trigger points of all the muscle groups in the forearm. In the majority of the cases, the pain in the tennis elbow is caused by the overuse of the muscles that extend the forearm. What you need to do is apply deep finger pressure on those muscles, choosing the area that is located as close to the pain as it is possible. The pressure should be steady and maintained for a period of 30-60 seconds.

The active release technique has been proven effective in those who were diagnosed with the tennis elbow, reducing the pain and improving the mobility in the elbow joint. Thus, professional tennis players were able to return to their activity in a shorter amount of time.

Hamstrings problems

The active release technique is definitely recommended in case of injuries to the hamstrings. The application of the deep finger pressure on the hamstring origin and insertion points has increased the flexibility of the muscles.


The active release technique is an effective therapy in the patients who were diagnosed with sciatica, presenting a wide range of physical symptoms. In many patients, the inflamed and scarred piriformis muscle is responsible for all the problems, as it compresses the sciatic nerves. The deep finger pressure applied on the trigger point of the pain in the lower back can improve the symptoms of sciatica, as it relieves the pressure caused by the piriformis muscle on the sciatic nerve.

Achilles tendonitis

In the situation of Achilles tendonitis, the active release technique can be quite efficient, as it works to break all the adhesions that restrict mobility, restoring the normal functioning of the soft tissues. The advantage of the active release technique is that it treats the root cause of the problem, meaning the cross fiber adhesion and not the symptoms. The application of this technique allows for the adhesions between superficial and deep tissue structures to be eliminated, which guarantees 100% functionality after several intervention sessions.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

The active release technique was successfully used in the patients who were diagnosed with the carpal tunnel syndrome. The deep finger pressure allowed for the median nerve to no longer be entrapped, the majority of the patients noticing an improvement in their condition after just two weeks of treatment. The severity of the symptoms was reduced by the effective application of the active release technique, which ultimately led to an increase in the overall functionality.

Back pain

Low back pain is one of the most common medical complaints that can be address through the active release technique. By applying pressure on the specific trigger points, this technique can address the muscle imbalance, eliminating adhesions and scar tissue. At the same time, it improves mobility in the affected segment of the back and allows the patient to function normally, without any restrictions.

Bulging disc

The active release technique is recommended for those who have a bulging disc; as it addresses the muscle imbalance and treats existing adhesions, it contributes to the muscles becoming stronger and the kinetic chain functioning without interruptions. It can prevent the disc from herniating completely and it improves the neurological symptoms experienced by the patients.

Biceps tendonitis

If one suffers from the inflammation of the biceps tendons, the active release technique can be quite effective in solving such problems. This condition is often caused by overuse, which leads to the appearance of adhesions in the soft tissues of the muscles. By applying deep finger pressure as the points of origin and insertion, one can greatly improve the symptoms experienced, increasing mobility and functionality at the same time.

Frozen shoulder

The medical condition known as the frozen shoulder is characterized by a complete lack of mobility in the shoulder joint, along with extreme pain and other symptoms. The active release technique has been shown to be highly effective in patients who suffer from the frozen shoulder, as it works on relaxing the muscles around the shoulder joint. The application of pressure on the soft tissues allows for the muscle fiber adhesions to be broken down, bringing pain relief and an increase in the overall mobility.

Plantar fasciitis

The inflammation of the plantar fascia can be solved through the effective applications of the active release technique. Just like in the other medical cases, the therapist will apply deep finger pressure on the trigger points, breaking down any adhesions and ensuring the mobility of the soft tissues. The advantages of the active release technique also include pain relief and less rigidity, thus allowing the patient to regain his/her normal functioning, including walking.

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