How Can Dry Needling Help Your Pain?

How Can Dry Needling Help Your Pain?

January 11, 2020

So, what is Functional Dry Needling?

Dry Needling is a tool used during Physical Therapy treatment to help reduce pain like sciatica, plantar fascia pain, muscle tension pain, nagging aches in your neck or back that make you want to lay down after cooking dinner or avoid lifting your child, and even cramping type pain that you may get when you try to exercise. There are many names used with Dry Needling, including functional, trigger point, performance, myofascial, etc. Most require a significant understanding of human anatomy and physiology and use the same tools, such as a filament needle (also used in acupuncture), alcohol for sanitizing, gloves, cotton balls, and sometimes an electric stimulation device. Decision making and technique can be the difference between practitioners.

What is Dry Needling?

Before I discuss the different uses for Dry Needling, let me explain the difference between traditional acupuncture and Dry Needling. Traditional acupuncture uses the same needles and can sometimes be used to release trigger points, but that is where the similarities end. Acupuncturists base their treatment on Chinese body maps that use meridians to connect specific parts of the body. They use the needles at designated areas to address multiple issues your body may be having in an attempt to improve your body’s Qi (pronounced: chi) energy. When placing the needles in these areas, typically, the needle will only be in the more superficial skin layers and occasionally be used in the muscle belly to address pain at the specific location.

The Acupuncturist will use electric stimulation or leave the needles in for an extended time with or without supervision. Each Acupuncturist and Physical Therapist will have different backgrounds and techniques, so treatments may vary. Acupuncture has incredible healing power and a place in healing; however, traditional practices are different from Dry Needling.

Dry Needling, in its most basic definition, is the placing of a needle into a muscle to release a trigger point. It began with physician wet needling, which involves providing trigger point injections; but physicians learned that performing the same technique without the injection could be just as effective (hence: “dry” needling). In theory, it will improve mobility and reduce tension sensation in that muscle. Dry Needling, in this way, is similar to attempting to massage out the trigger point and getting a twitch response of the muscle. The twitch lets a practitioner know that the muscle has “released.”

How is Dry Needling beneficial?

Dry Needling, as taught by many institutions, releases chemicals to help reduce pain and creates a microtrauma that stimulates healing. It provides a massive amount of input or information to your nervous system, which can help with awareness, sensitivity, protection, and pain. The information sent to your nervous system is similar but much larger and more specific in comparison to massage, stretching, or strengthening. This increased information strengthens the connection between the muscle and the brain, therefore improving performance.

It is important to note that Dry Needling alone is not going to solve all your problems. Yes, it can relieve tension, but the question is: why is that tension or trigger points there in the first place? Usually, a muscle is “tight” or has trigger points in response to trying to protect an uncontrolled range of motion or activity. So by addressing the trigger point alone, it can affect the symptoms but maybe not the underlying cause of the symptoms, and therefore the trigger points could return. That is why massaging or stretching muscles that are tight alone will not loosen them. If you cannot control a range of motion, you do not own that motion, and you risk tension returning as the body tries to protect itself. That is also why Dry Needling alone is not the answer and must be reinforced with exercises to support the gained motion.

Dry Needling can also improve the use of inhibited or insufficient muscles. These are muscles that are not firing well because of decreased nerve communication, which can happen from poor posturing or following an injury. The reinforced nerve and muscle input provided by the Dry Needling will help your body use those muscles because your brain has a better awareness of that area and the muscle contracting. With this better representation, your body will use the muscle more efficiently and, as a result, will have less protective compensation if you reinforce the motion control. Another benefit, if not the most powerful benefit of the input to the nerve, is that it can also improve the other muscles controlled by that nerve root when you Dry Needle the spinal muscles. That will allow you to improve the mobility and strength of muscles in your extremities rather than feeling like you have chronically tight or weak muscles. When the muscle works better, it is less likely to create trigger points and, therefore, less likely to create symptoms.

Who offers Dry Needling?

When used appropriately and when indicated, Dry Needling is an excellent tool for your physical therapist to use to help you achieve your overall health goals. Whether you want to improve your ability to perform exercises without hurting, achieve poses in your pilates or yoga practice, run without nagging pain, or be with your family without having to think about your pain limiting you, a physical therapist with this tool can help you regain control of your body. If you want to find out if Dry Needling or any other technique could help you take back control of your life from pain, sign up for a call or a free 25 minute discovery visit with Movement First Physical Therapy.

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