Active Release is a patented, state of the ART soft tissue manual therapy.  It was developed by Dr. Michael Leahy, an Air Force Academy graduate, engineer and pilot turned Doctor of Chiropractic.  He took principles from engineering and applied them to the basic science of how the soft tissues in the human body interact with each other in the myofascial system.

What he found was that the fascial system is designed for frictionless sliding of tissues.  Backed by the latest and basic science, the research has done a deep dive into what happens when the body incurs injury.  What we know is that the soft connective tissues respond to acute injury and chronic repetitive injury in much the same way.

How Do Our Bodies Move When We are Healthy?

Fascia, when healthy forms a free gliding interface between and within muscles, allowing free movement to occur.  When fascia, muscles, tendons, and ligaments get mechanically overloaded, injury can occur resulting in fibrosis and adhesions that disrupt the “sliding and gliding” of tissues.  Simply said, the muscle and other soft tissues get “glued down and stuck together” which limits your ability to move correctly.


The picture above shows muscle and fascia.  The fascia is the silk that allows the muscle layers to glide freely during movement.  This fascia gets “glued down” after repetitive motion injury or after trauma.

So Why Do I have pain?  What happened to cause my injury?

Hypoxic Fibrous Adhesion Production: This term has been described in detail by Dr. William Brady, an ART provider and former ART instructor.  He details the importance and effects of soft tissue injuries and adhesion formation following such injuries.  More from Dr. Brady can be found at Integrativediagnosis.com


After injury, whether from microtrauma, compressions, strain/sprain, or an acute tear the body will:

FIRST:  the injured area becomes tight and glued down, resulting in decreased oxygenation of the tissues (hypoxia).

  1. Develop new capillaries around the injury to establish blood flow.
  2. Cause migration and formation of fibroblasts (these are the cells that form new scar tissue during repair).
  3. Fibroblasts will lay down extracellular matrix ground substance (glue) which acts like scaffolding to support newly formed tissue repair.
  4. Finally, the maturation and reorganization of the scar tissue.  Scar tissue gets laid down in a crisscross latticed pattern, while normal healthy soft tissue has it’s fibers running in parallel.  Thus, the scar tissue must be realigned for it to become truly mature and function like normal pre-injured state soft tissue.


Because immature scar tissue is weaker than healthy tissue and cannot handle as much load as normal healthy muscle, the following typically occur over time with repetitive use of unhealthy “glued down” tissue:

  • Muscles become shorter and weaker.
  • Tension on tendons causes tendonitis.
  • Nerves can become entrapped.

This can result in reduced ranges of motion, loss of strength,  pain, and often numbness and tingling.


With repetitive motion, the overused tissues become short and tight, and then they rub against adjacent tissues.  Often times nerves run between these tissues which can become glued down, much like Velcro.

What occurs inside these tight areas is the cellular environment becomes acidic and has low oxygen.  Besides causing pain and inflammation, this environment is also the catalyst for the formation of myofibroblasts, cells that the body uses to repair tissue damage in soft tissues.

What ART accomplishes through the specific application of tension and compression of tissues, applied by the practitioner in conjunction with specific movement, we can release these glued together adhesions.

About 80 % of the syndromes patients present with including pain, burning, numbness and tingling can be attributed to some form of nerve entrapment.

Physicians trained in Active Release have undergone extensive post graduate training in all regions of the body, biomechanics, long nerve tract, and extremely detailed anatomy.  This allows the ART provider to accurately diagnose the problem, and apply specific treatments to restore movement.

That’s what separates Active Release from all other myofascial manual therapies:

Specific anatomical based diagnosis combined with restoring internal sliding of tissues.

It looks easy because it is elegant- but the reality is it takes years even decades of training and practice to achieve that level of grace in the moment.

To find an Active Release Provider in your area, visit activerelease.com and search “FIND PROVIDER”.

With over 17 years of experience, Dr. Fontaine is a Chiropractic physician in private practice in Northern Virginia.  He is the clinical director of Potomac Physical Medicine.  His practice focuses on combining an integrative approach to muscle and joint pain syndromes using sports chiropractic and Active Release Techniques® (A.R.T).
He trained at one of  the country’s leading spine care facilities (Texas Back Institute), holds certification with the American College of Sports Medicine, and is a Full Body Certified ART provider.  A former collegiate baseball player and an avid athlete, Dr. Fontaine is dedicated to athletes and understands the needs of active individuals.  He is an active member of DC Tri Club and Trident CrossFit and has completed over 30 Triathlons including, IRONMAN 70.3 Timberman, St. Anthony’s Triathlon, and Daytona Frogman.  He is also active in his community supporting Fairfax County Fire & Rescue as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)/Firefighter.
Dr. Fontaine has worked at the professional level with two MLB teams who make their spring training home in Florida.  As a member of the ART IRONMAN Performance Care Team he treated athletes at IM Florida and the IM 70.3 World Championships.  He is the creator of a blog, Prehab4Performance.com,  and has been a contributing author for Triathlete magazine, The Journal of the American Chiropractic Association and StrengthCoach.com.  He is also a speaker in his local sports community providing athletes with knowledge and insights into preventing injury, resolving pain, and optimizing athletic performance.