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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

ART and STR - the differences?

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I've had a few clients come for a first treatment, and they have mentioned that during trips to the USA they received a marvellous and almost magical treatment called ART. They explained it as a stretching kind of motion which caused an almost "Chinese burn" like sensation.

Now to me as a Sports Massage Therapist, this sounded remarkably like STR (Soft Tissue Release), very much one of the standard techniques that we are taught and use on a day to day basis. When I proceeded to do STR on them, they were astounded and the remarks were generally along the lines of

"Yup- that's it, that's ART- wow, it feels MUCH better now."


So what is the difference between ART and STR? Are there any? I decided to do a little bit of delving and see what I could find. Obviously from a position where I use STR on a daily basis, most of my research was based around looking at what ART is and how (if it does at all) it differs.

My first port of call was, as ever, the internet, ART- Active Release Technique "the gold standard in soft tissue therapy" Brilliant, so I get to find out what it is. But not quite.
ART, it seems is a patented version of Soft Tissue Release. You pay your money, and go on a seminar, and learn to do ART. Which is pretty cool... but is there actually a difference between the two techniques - especially as STR certainly isn't patented. As Mel Cash says - you can patent a way to teach something, but you can't actually patent a technique.

I asked around a few therapists, and a few authors of Soft Tissue Release books, and received the somewhat underwhelming response that they thought the techniques were very similar, but weren't really sure.

Thankfully I found a colleague who has been trained in both STR and ART - and is someone I look up to as a tutor and a therapist, he was able to give a little more insight into the similarities and, more importantly, the differences between the two techniques.

It would appear that the main difference between the two techniques in terms of "hands on" palpation is that in STR we apply a lock into the tissue, creating a false insertion to the muscle - creating a restricted range of motion. The muscle is then moved through this restricted range. I suppose you could ultimately call this a "pin and stretch" technique.

ART uses more of a slide and move between components. There is no specific "lock", but more of a non-specific parallel tension - and the limb/muscle is pretty much always moved through the full range of movement. There is no movement of the contact hand- certainly no slide, but perhaps a slight proximal or distal grip.

It would appear that the technique is quite subtle and there are various releases that don't seem to be covered by STR as a rule - things like nerve entrapment releases - which sound really quite intriguing. It has been explained that the tension is used in a way to try to separate myofascia - and seems to be more precise in terms of depth, area and location.

The main massive difference is the way in which it is taught - and this is where ART and STR differ and where the patent comes in. STR is widely publicised and is very much a part of the Soft Tissue Therapists daily tool box. It requires a knowledge of how muscles and fascia work and in which direction they work in, and the subtlety comes from the practitioner. Precise techniques are developed over time and mastery is very much something that you get to from your own exploration of the technique.

From what I've been told, ART is taught in a very regimented and exacting way. Each myofascial structure, each muscle, each nerve and joint capsule has a working protocol and it is all standardised. When you learn, you learn exactly as demonstrated and you do not deviate from the way it is done by the tutor - which is the way it has been handed down from the guy who patented it.

Both versions of this myofascial release and the way in which they are taught have their benefits and their downfalls, but they both get the job done in remarkably similar ways.

As such, I will continue treating with STR, but now, when people ask about ART and the treatment they may have had elsewhere, I know where they are coming from and what they are expecting in terms of treatment. Interestingly, I often feel that STR might be a little too aggressive and choose to let the lock slide, so perhaps I'm already using some form of ART to obtain more subtle tissue changes.  I would like to actually go on an ART course in order to have hands on experience of the differences between them, but unfortunately as far as continual professional development, my time and resources have been allocated already for the moment. Hopefully next year I will get a chance to see and feel the difference. When I do, I would hope to be able to give more of an insight as to the differences, instead of just writing down what I have gleaned from other people.

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