Is Dry Needling the New Weapon against Chronic Pain?
Acupuncture aims to restore a person’s well-being and balance by placing the needles into specific points in the body to open up the body’s Chi, or energy flow.
With dry needling, on the other hand, the target is pain caused by severe muscle spasm, inflammation or injury. It is a medicine-based treatment that uses needles to stimulate blood flow and promote natural healing to an area of the body that is affected by pain. The needling therapy leads to a series of intricate chemical reactions in the brain, such as the release of a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which blocks pain. In addition, the chemical response increases natural opiates that leads to an overall decrease in inflammation.
According to Tanya Kalyuzhny, DPT, director of physical therapy at the Greenwich, CT office of ONS, dry needling can be an effective treatment to disrupt neuro-musculoskeletal pain patterns, release muscular limitations and provide relief from other painful orthopedic and spine conditions.
“Dry needling is a useful technique to remedy a range of painful conditions from stubborn muscle tightness to back pain, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) and tendinitis,” Kalyuzhny said. Dry needling has been shown to be one of the most effective procedures to release trigger points. For this reason, therapists also use dry needling with patients suffering from fibromyalgia, a condition that can be difficult to treat manually because the points of pain are deep into the muscle.
During the treatment, a physical therapist who is trained and licensed to perform the procedure will insert a needle directly into a point of spasm in the muscle band, known as a trigger point, or around the region of pain or injury. The therapist will gently maneuver the needle until the targeted muscle twitches in response. The needle is then wound inside the tissue by turning it in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. Turning the tissue allows the collagen fibers to wrap around the needle and release toxins from within the muscle. The needle remains inserted into the trigger point for 10 to 30 minutes, during which time patients may experience momentary muscle cramping or a dull ache at the site. The needle is then unwound back to its starting position, which leaves the wrapped fibers in a relaxed state.
“The release of toxins can result in soreness and bruising for a day or two following the treatment,” said Kalyuzhny. Some people experience pain relief shortly after the procedure, however, additional treatments may be required depending on the nature of the chronic pain and other factors. It can take as many as three treatments to start noticing a change.
While the treatment is relatively new to the general public, dry needling in use with high performance athletes who need to get back into the game as soon as possible. “Professional athletes often rely on dry needling to loosen tight muscles and relieve pain caused by tendinitis and other sports injuries,” Kalyuzhny said
In most cases, dry needling is part of a larger therapeutic program that includes retraining and strengthening exercises to restore normal function and control of the affected musculature. ONS has a number of physical therapists who are trained and licensed in dry needling. You can schedule a consultation to find out if dry needling is a pain management option for you.