A Point Performance therapist applies dry needling to a calf injured during marathon training.
Ever experience muscle tightness that’s so bad it can’t even be relieved by vigorous massage? In comes dry needling, a procedure that can help release some of the tightness and the knots, and provide immediate relief.
When your muscles are experiencing pain or soreness, they form tight bands that, upon light massage or touch, can cause pain in related areas. These tight bands, also known as trigger points, are caused by exercise, repetitive movement, or stress.
Dry needling involves the use of a fine, sterile needle, without any medication (hence “dry”), inserted into the underlying myofascial trigger point, causing the muscle to twitch, and then relax. The procedure may cause increased blood flow to the region, and cause nerve ending responses that change pain perception. Practitioners wear gloves when handling needles.
Dry needling, also known as trigger point dry needling and intramuscular manual therapy, is not to be confused with acupuncture, though the needles are similar. Acupuncture is rooted in ancient Chinese medicine and involves the flow of one’s energy, or qi, through the whole body, while dry needling focuses on the one area and is not part of Chinese medicine. Physical therapists are required to take courses in dry needling before being allowed to administer the practice on patients.
There is a small amount of pain, but many say the pain is worth the relief experienced afterwards. After the procedure, the muscles are much smoother due to lack of trigger points, and there’s less tension. The patient may feel sore immediately after the procedure and for several hours after, but the pain will be far less the next day. The patient may repeat the procedure at different sessions.
Dry needling has brought much pain relief to many people, from those with chronic back pain to weekend warriors. Some runners who suffered from tremendous leg pain were able to complete entire marathons within a couple weeks of treatment. Dry needling should not be the only aspect in a physical therapy plan, however. It’s important to include exercises and other manual therapy to get at the root of the problem that’s causing the pain in the first place.