ART A Do It Yourself Guide
Active Release Technique for Everyday Athletics
Calf, Achilles Tendon, Hamstrings & Traps

Article Updated March 19, 2016

This ART Do IT Yourself Guide is intended to help show you how to relieve shoulder, thigh, knee, foot, ankle, and shin pain with ART an active release technique.  Tight thigh & leg muscles are often involved in lower limb pain. A tight trapezius can lead to neck & jaw pain as well as headaches.  Actively engaging the muscles utilizes the interaction between the nervous system and the muscular system and can help provide relief.  This guide is intended for massage therapists to share with clients as home self-care techniques and others as general self-care methods.   

Applying even firm pressure stimulates pressure receptors while active movement stimulates stretch receptors.  This work is simple, to the point and does not require any purchase of tennis balls, lacrosse balls, rollers, knobs or pokers.  You already have everything you need.  If you do have ongoing chronic pain and discomfort we do recommend you seek out a massage therapist and an ART practitioner to enhance your own self-care efforts. 

Note: Information provided on this site and within articles does not designate a suggestion as a replacement for professional medical therapy.  When experiencing acute or chronic pain or reduced mobility please seek immediate medical care.

Art a Do It Yourself Guide

Relieve Upper Body Tension & Headaches

The more you are open to exploring your own musculature the more successful you will be with any of these suggested active muscle release techniques.  If you are to release tension in the right upper shoulder muscle the Trapezius grasp the muscle with your left hand fingers on the back of the muscle and the thumb on the front of the muscle.  Grasp the muscle between the neck and the shoulder joint and gently squeeze. 

Make sure your fingers and thumb are on muscle.  Flex the neck away from the right shoulder and toward the left while depressing the right shoulder blade (pulling the arm down and away from the left hand).  Allow the muscle to roll through your fingers until you are on upper fibers of the muscle.  Grasp toward the shoulder or closer to the neck and repeat. 

Relieve Shin and Foot pain

To release the gastrocnemius or calf muscle sit on a flat surface with the leg to be treated bent at the knee.  Grasp the leg below the knee with the finger tips on the shin and the thumbs able to press into the calf.  Many of us already know exactly where the knots in our calf are located.  If this is the case go ahead and start your work in this area of the muscle tissue.  Not everyone will have a specific knot or spasm location.

Place your thumbs together in a slight bent posture to protect the thumb joints in each hand.  Now lean forward. keeping a slight bend in your elbows and allowing your body weight to provide the force and pressure transferring into your thumbs and calf muscle.  The pressure should be firm and not overly forced! 

If you have long nails, then as you grasp the shin with your fingertips overlap your thumbs in an X.  You will still want to keep them slightly bend and lean forward utilizing your body weight rather than the muscles of the hand or arm.  The calf muscle gastrocnemius has two heads or attachment points on either side of the knee joint and another attachment point at the foot.  We will discuss this point at the foot the Achilles tendon next.

Even when using an X configuration, it is still important to slightly flex the thumb to prevent injury to the joints.  Apply pressure then straighten the leg while flexing the toes.  As you return your knee to a flexed position to release pressure and extend the toes while bringing the foot toward the shin as much as you can. 

It is best to do this with shoes off.  Focus on the inside of the back of leg from the knee down about 3/4 of the way to the foot.  Then focus on the outside of the back of the leg from the knee down about 3/4 of the way to the foot. Repeat as need spend more time where ever you found knots or spasms.  Move down the leg a little more each time you grasp the shin and apply pressure.

For some individuals it may be more comfortable to place the thumbs on the shin and fingers into the calf muscles.  This requires one to flex the arms at the elbow to apply pressure to the muscle.  Remember to keep your fingers slightly flexed to prevent joint injury.  Even firm pressure is enough.   This should not be painful.

As you perform this motion you want to move with the leg in extension as far as you can, then it's ok to release a little pressure and let your calf slide away from your hand.  As you reach full extension at the knee begin to extend your toes as you return to a flexed knee position then relax.

Achilles Tendon
Relieve Achilles Tendinitis

We are now going to cover how to focus more directly on the Achilles tendon to assist those individuals that may be experiencing Achilles tendonitis or even plantar fasciitis.  Bend the knee of the leg to be worked on by bringing the leg toward you as if you were going to cross your legs. 

Let's assume here that you will be releasing your right calf and Achilles tendon.  Take your right hand and place it on the outside of the knee as you bring the leg toward yourself to stabilize the leg and lower limb.  Take your fingers and thumb of your left hand and grab the tendon close to the ankle joint. 

Now bring your toes toward your shin, this will increase the tension within the tendon.  Follow the tendon up the leg toward the knee moving the toes toward and away from the shin until you find the softer tissue of the muscle, which will allow your fingers and thumb to sink into the tissue deeper. 

An effective release can be accomplished by gasping the calf muscle at this point pulling up toward the knee while flexing the toes down hold for 1 and 1/2 seconds and relax.   Change your grasp of the bulk of the muscle just above the Achilles tendon as needed and repeat. 

A variation of this technique is to use the fingers of your left hand and apply pressure while pulling up as you flex your toes.  Change the position of the finger pressure being applied and repeat.  A firm, even pressure is enough, this should not produce any pain.  If pain is experienced stop. 

Iliotibial Band
Relieve IT Band Syndrome & Knee Pain 

The IT band can play a significant role in pain on the outside or lateral side of the knee.   It can also play a role in pain on the outside of the hip as it passes over the greater trochanter of the femur.  The IT band is a long fibrous tendon that attaches to the Gluteus Maximus the largest of the hip extenders and a smaller muscle named tensor fascia latae. 

In the image you can see the small tensor fascia latae highlighted in orange.  The long tendon attachés to the tibia the lateral most leg bone.  The tibia and fibula are the two leg bones that articulate with the femur of the thigh forming the knee joint along with the patella or knee cap.  

To release the area of the IT band sit in a location where you can lean back, opening your hip up to a 45 degree angle.  Now grasp the outside of your thigh just above your flexed knee.  Your fingers can grasp under the thigh as the extended thumb clamps down on the top side of the band.  You will feel the softer tissue of the quadriceps muscle named the vastus lateralis on top and the hamstring muscle named biceps femoris underneath at the knee 

Vastus Lateralis wraps around the femur as it moves toward its lower attachment at the knee.  The IT Band is a part of a deep fascial thickening that wraps the thigh called the Fascia Lata.   Inflammation and pain can develop as this structure and the tendon formed from Gluteus Maximus and Tensor Fascia Latae moves over the deep musculature in activities such as swimming, running and biking to name a few. 

Extend your leg out from the knee while leaning back.  Continue to grasp the thigh extend the knee and lean back as you move up from the knee toward the hip joint.  As you reach the hip take your fingers and press them into the side of the upper hip bone the ilium.  Lean back while extending the entire lower limb away from the hip joint.

Release Tight Thighs

The sensation of tight hamstrings often has more to do with shortened flexors and adductors than it does with the hamstrings themselves.  Therefore our suggestion is to release the thigh as a whole.  Work the IT band first, then follow with the following unilateral release.

First stand next to a counter, doorway or stationary chair for balance if needed.  Hyperextend your leg at the hip backward and hold at full extension for 1 and 1/2 seconds.  Repeat several times on both sides.  This will help relax the hip flexors.

Now sit in a position that allows you to lean back opening the hip to 45 degrees.  Start at the top of the thigh and grasp on either side with both hand's fingers underneath the thigh and thumbs on top.  Squeeze into the thigh with your fingers and thumb as you flex the leg up toward the trunk, then extend out again point the foot down and flexing the toes. Hold for 1 and 1/2 seconds then relax.  Repeat several times on both sides.  

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