Athletes have been turning to massage to boost circulation, flush toxins and improve muscular elasticity to promote post-exercise recovery and ratchet up running performance. And it can feel pretty good, too. But a new form of bodywork is popping up at sports-med facilities that can actually help you recover from old injuries, too. Active Release Technique, known as ART, helps heal muscle pulls and tears and helps restore mobility where scar tissue may have built up.
The technique, which involves localized massage while specific muscles are stretched, increases overall range of motion and releases pressure on nerves, reducing pain.
How it works: Most soreness and soft-tissue issues stem from overuse, and when injuries occur—even small ones—scar tissue can form, which can reduce mobility and cause muscles and tendons to shorten over time. Scar tissue can also build up around nerves, causing pain and tingling. ART's specific massage and stretching combo helps bring blood and oxygen to injuries, promoting healing and releasing areas bound by scarring.
How it feels: The pressure can sometimes rival a deep sports massage, and when combined with the specific ART movements, can—we won't sugarcoat it—kind of hurt in the moment. Pain relief is immediate, though, as is increased range of motion.
Are you using a foam roller to help relieve pain? You're actually already practicing a form of do-it-yourself, mobility-enhancing recovery—just make sure you stop if you feel pain.
"It's a misconception with self-massage that pain is good," Gustin says. "A tennis ball, for example, can actually be too much."
Gustin suggests using a foam roller that's free of a hard, PVC core, and rolling it under muscles daily after workouts. Be sure to target your glutes, hips and the all-too-often painful IT band: Lie on your side with the roller under your hip, and roll it down beneath you, toward your knee. Stack your feet to increase the pressure, if needed.
San Francisco-based sports medicine chiropractic specialist Anthony Gustin suggests that runners get ART at least twice per month from a certified practitioner—usually a specialized massage therapist, chiropractic doctor or physical therapist.Sign up for your next race.