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Active Release Techniques: Keeping the Fighter Whole

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Fighting takes a toll on the body no matter how much care is taken to maintain structural health.  Active Release Therapy (A.R.T.) is a viable treatment option to heal the body and increase performance.

Hawaii-based MMA fighter and massage therapist Matt Myers came across this system during his quest to find a way to heal his own fight-induced aches and pains.

“My goal initially when I got into massage was to help heal chronic injuries and help athletes preform. In the spa world I always did the deeper work, the deep tissue, trigger point, shiatsu and through my own injuries and searching for a way to fix them I came across A.R.T.,” said Myers. “Once I found it I realized that this was the exact system I was looking for. It is a system to pick apart muscles, to separate nerves from them.”

This isn’t your normal feel-good massage. This isn’t the kind with soothing music, which may lead you to fall asleep half way through. You will be awake for every minute and in fact, in Myers’ studio you are more likely to hear heavy metal than soft flutes.

This soft tissue, movement-based massage techniques of  A.R.T. treat problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Headaches, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, and tennis elbow just to name a few. One of the factors these share is that they are often a result of overused muscles.

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“ART is a patented system. It is continuing education for chiropractors and physical therapists,” says Myers as he works on another Honolulu fighter recovering from shoulder injury. “It involves shortening the muscle like your infraspinatus here that I am currently on (as he places his hands on the back of his client’s shoulder), and taking a tension on it. I’m not really moving across your skin but I’m feeling your muscle through and then I’m going to run you though the full range to lengthen that muscle completely. I am pinning a part of it down where I can feel every fiber move under my thumb, so when I feel a nerve possible trapped under some scar tissue I can pin that scar tissue and make the nerve move. It is creating relative motion under the skin rather than just gliding over it. When you can create tension between those layers and actually separate them you get amazing results.” The fighter nods as Myers explains this process, which is obviously a bit uncomfortable but effective.

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Part of the system relies on movement of the area surrounding the injury while the muscle, tendon, nerve, etc, is isolated. In this instance Myers instructs the fighter to look down, and move their arm across the body slowly as he pins down the nerve locked under the should blade, which has been causing pro-longed pain and discomfort. Myers explains that a lot of fighters are training and competing with injuries that are caused by repetitive motion, but could be repaired through A.R.T.

“It’s really for any type of repetitive strain injury,” said Myers. “For a lot of jiu jitsu players I know, we end up with  forearm and shoulder injuries. One of the reasons for this is because we are working our grip so much. The same with stand up fighters. Boxers frequently end up with elbow issues, and of course arms locks can cause elbow issues as well.”

Some of the hardest injuries to overcome are those that affect the joints. Because so much of the body is used during mixed martial arts, fighters often find themselves straining joints repetitively in training and treating with painkillers and ice.

All of these injuries from training and competing can cause the body to produce tough, dense scar tissue in the affected area. Scar tissue binds up and ties down tissues that need to move freely. This causes muscles to become shorter and weaker. Tension on tendons causes tendonitis, and nerves can become trapped. This leads to  reduced range of motion, loss of strength, and pain. If a nerve is trapped it may also feel tingling, numbness, and weakness.

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“Any joint issues that may come, ART can actually restore the joint to full health” said Myers. “Any scar tissue build up, if you take leg kicks in the same spot that muscle is going to harden and get tougher, and we want it to be tuff but when it starts affecting circulation and nerve function we have to go in and break it up.”

As a fighter and martial artist, Myers has a trained eye for MMA injuries and their many variations.

“A.R.T. is effective for keeping a fighter whole. We put our bodies through so much in this sport that is almost a perfect compliment to everything we do. Whether it is the repetitive use or damaging crushing impact, all of those things are going to contribute to what we call cumulative trauma disorder.”

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Over the last decade the popularity of A.R.T. has grown tremendously in high-level organizations such as the NFL, PGA and NASCAR.

“We are finding pro athletes are using A.R.T. year round. They are using it in their pre season strength and conditioning. They are using it to make sure they are keeping their full range, through training, any little strain that pops up or any inflammation can be treated by A.R.T. and ensure that no nerves are stuck.

“Many athletes suffer from injuries like carpel tunnel, golfers elbow and tennis elbow. Our understanding of these injuries is really evolving and we can keep people out from under the knife with ART, we really can.”

For more information on Active Release Techniques you can contact Matt@MyersTherapy.com