Dry Needling: Here’s the Point
By Tyson Damitz, DPT
Let’s talk about a patient that we are seeing more and more of in Physical Therapy these days. We’ll call him Ted. Ted, desperate for some relief from his shoulder pain, came into the clinic almost unable to raise his arm. It clearly was not from a lack of potential strength or effort. Ted was a high-level CrossFit trainer/participant and an incredibly in-shape person. He complained that he could not raise his arm following a work-out, which was limiting his ability to perform his job and recreation. After 1 dry needling session, he was able to resume his normal routine, both in the gym and the office.
What is Dry Needling?
While Ted’s results may not be everyone’s, it is normal for someone to feel an immediate improvement in their symptoms. So what is dry needling? Dry needling is the act of putting a solid filament, dry (not containing medicine or liquid) needle, in taught muscle tissue or trigger points to decrease pain, decrease tightness, and improve function. A trained Physical Therapist (PT) utilizes a full physical evaluation, along with their expertise in musculoskeletal anatomy/physiology, and overall movement patterns or function to determine the appropriate treatment.
Does it Hurt?
At first thought, one may think placing a needle in muscle tissue can be somewhat uncomfortable; however with a trained dry needle expert typically only a small “pinch” is felt when the needle is inserted. This is normally much more comfortable than having a blood drawn or getting a shot. When the needle reaches the level of trigger point or tight muscle a deep “tooth achy” feeling is experienced. A slight muscle twitch, or local twitch response, may also be perceived. These are all normal and desired sensations in order to restore normal motion, strength, and ability. The vast majority of people describe a “weird” sensation during treatment.
How Does it Work?
Dry needling is effective because it changes the tension of the local muscle tissue and neuromuscular (brain to muscle) connection between the associated tissues. It is much like rebooting your computer when you get that dreaded blue screen…CTRL + ALT + DELETE is always the answer. Dry needling helps to reprogram or reboot the connection between the injured tissue and the brain. By changing the chemicals in those tissues, it helps to reinstate a normal connection and therefore pain control, flexibility, and function.
Is this Acupuncture?
The short answer is NO. While dry needling uses acupuncture filament, the similarities end there. Dry needling treatment is determined following an extensive medical evaluation to identify injury and dysfunction, not based on meridians and chi. Also, dry needling is performed by experts in the movement who have spent many hours in graduate school studying anatomy and physiology of the human body. needling is always performed with personal protection equipment (gloves) and by creating a clean environment while using a clean needle technique. Infection is extremely rare.
Who Can Benefit?
Almost anyone can benefit from dry needling; however, there are some who may experience greater results. Dry needling has been shown to quite effectively treat chronic pain, headaches, tendinitis, bursitis, sprains/strains, and acute injuries. A trained PT will utilize dry needling, stretching, strengthening, and other treatments to fully diagnose and solve the issue at hand. Patients can expect to feel some degree of improvement after 1 session and full results vary in the number of treatments usually based on chronicity.
In conclusion, dry needling is a useful and very effective treatment used in conjunction with traditional physical therapy. Whether you have suffered from back pain for years or you pulled your hamstring in the game yesterday, dry needling may be your ticket to restored function and getting your normal life back again.