What Is Active Release Therapy And How Does It Work For Muscle Strains

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Written By Berry Mathew

Muscle strains happen from time to time, usually as a result of working the muscles too hard or too much. Although they usually improve with time, muscle strains can be frustrating. They can be painful, restrict movement, and limit activities and sports. Here’s how active muscle release therapy can help. 

What Is Active Release Therapy?

Active release therapy is a type of soft tissue massage designed to relieve musculoskeletal tension that develops from daily activities, repetitive use, or muscle overload. It is a non-invasive therapy that has been used for decades to treat a range of symptoms in the muscles, joints, and tendons.

The goal of active release therapy is to: 

  • Restore movement in all muscles and joints
  • Release entrapped soft tissue
  • Re-establish normal musculoskeletal function 

Many healthcare providers use active release therapy, including physical therapists, chiropractors, and sports doctors. Active release therapy is suggested to be an effective conservative (non-surgical) treatment strategy for a range of musculoskeletal conditions, including muscle strains, particularly when combined with rehabilitation.

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How Does Active Release Therapy Work?

When soft tissue in the body is overworked or overloaded, it can trigger negative changes in the tissue like fibrosis and adhesions. These are dense areas of the tissue that form when the muscle tissue is injured. When fibrosis and adhesions occur, it can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced flexibility in the muscles and surrounding area. Active release therapy targets this problematic tissue. 

Using this technique, clinicians apply tensile or shearing pressure to the injury site, stimulating blood flow and releasing tension. Deep pressure is also used in combination with “active” movements from the patient to produce a sliding motion under the contact point that helps release the affected muscles and tissues. 

Active Release Therapy Plus Rehabilitation 

After active release treatment, exercises are essential for the continued positive effect of the technique. Active release therapy is often combined with rehabilitative techniques to prevent re-injury and recurrent symptoms. At Ironhorse Physical Therapy & Pilates in San Ramon, our physical therapists individually select each exercise for our patients to target muscle strength, endurance, and improve long-term outcomes after a soft tissue injury.

What Is Active Release Therapy Used For?

Active release therapy is widely used for its many purported benefits, which include pain management, functional improvement, and healing from injury. Some of the conditions that can benefit from active release therapy include: 

  • Pain or tenderness 
  • “Trigger points” or tight areas in the muscles
  • Low back pain
  • Neck or shoulder pain
  • Hamstring strain 
  • Tendinopathy 
  • Shin splints
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome 
  • Sports injuries
  • Muscle strain

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Muscles Strains And Why They Hurt

A muscle strain, also called a pulled muscle, is a type of mild injury in the muscle or tendon. Minor muscle strains occur when the muscle or tendon gets overstretched, however a partial or complete tear can occur from severe overstretching or load. 

Muscle groups that are commonly strained include the hamstrings and quadriceps (particularly when playing sports), the lower back, the forearm, the neck, and the shoulders. A muscle strain is different from a strain, which affects the ligaments. 

Partial or complete tears may require surgery, so it is important to get them assessed by a medical professional. Treatment for minor strains may include rest, ice, and active release therapy in San Ramon

How Can Active Release Therapy Help Muscle Strains?

After a strain injury, the muscle tissue may develop adhesions and fibrosis. These get “stuck” when the muscle tries to contract, preventing the normal gliding movement of the muscle fibers. As a result, it can cause pain and stiffness, and limit perfusion and circulation of blood to the area. 

Active release therapy works by applying pressure to the tissue, lengthening the muscles, and releasing the adhesions. This can help alleviate pain and promote faster healing. Additionally, as lack of circulation can accelerate repetitive muscle strain injuries, active release therapy can help prevent ongoing muscle problems, particularly when combined with exercises.  

Physical Therapy In San Ramon

Whether getting back to playing with the grandkids or returning to triathlon competitions, active release therapy can be beneficial for most activities and injuries. Ironhorse Physical Therapy & Pilates offers physical therapy in San Ramon for injuries, like muscle strain, to promote faster healing and prevent re-injury.   

Don’t wait to address those aches and pains. Book an appointment with our experienced San Ramon physical therapists today! 

Always seek guidance from a medical professional about any specific health questions or issues.