Dry needling, or trigger point dry needling, is an incredibly effective form of myofascial release. In the simplest terms, this means loosening up tight muscle and connective tissue structures. At Foothills Sports Medicine, we have many specialists trained in dry needling as a leg or shoulder pain treatment.
Keep in mind, muscles are made up of long fibers that run parallel to each other; they constantly shorten and lengthen as we move. In all people, and for a wide variety of reasons, sections of these fibers can become too tight and may not move properly. This localized movement restriction, often referred to as a trigger point, is a source of pain for many.
Taking a broader view of what this restriction means, consider that these fibers connect at both ends to either a bone or a joint. So not only is the trigger point a potential source of pain, the restriction can also restrict movement at each of the attachment sites!
Think of it this way: Picture a two-foot length of rope. Tying a knot in the rope doesn’t change that its still two feet in length, but it won’t work the same way. Muscles/muscle fibers work in very much the same way.
Many people believe that stretching is the solution, but in most cases, it’s not enough. First, you have to actually incorporate a consistent stretching program with targeted stretches. But, think about it like this, if you tied a knot in a bungee cord, and then gave it a stretch, the cord would be stretched but the knot wouldn’t go away! This is where dry needling comes in to address the problem more directly.
Dry needling involves directly inserting a filament wire needle into a muscle. Though a complex neural mechanism, a local muscle contraction occurs when a needle is inserted, effectively releasing movement restrictions, and restoring the ability of the fiber to reach maximum length. When the muscle lengthens fully the associated bone and joint structures will move freely again!
Dry needling is an amazing treatment for any condition where there is myofascial compromise. Dry needling is a very powerful treatment, and offers an effective and fast-acting shoulder pain treatment solution.
Muscle pain can severely limit movement and function. In many cases, dry needling has the amazing capacity to restore lost movement immediately. Keep in mind that dry needling does not inject medication, it is simply a tool to directly address muscle restriction. In the same way that a massage therapist might dig into a muscle with their thumbs, palms, or elbows, a qualified physical therapist uses a filament wire needle to release muscle tension in a way nothing else can!
Doug Howard, PT, MPT is the Owner of the Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy in Arrowhead, AZ. Doug received his Masters in Physical Therapy at Midwestern University and has continuously supplemented his education with extensive training in Trigger Point Dry Needling, functional biomechanics and orthopedic injuries. Above all, Doug is a passionate AZ physical therapy expert. In this article, Doug gives us a glimpse into what it’s like to be a part of the Foothills family:
As I walked through the clinic last week, a woman excitedly motioned for me to come over to her. I redirected my path and headed towards her. She told me that this was her last day in physical therapy [at Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy—Arrowhead], and she “had to” tell me about her experience while attending physical therapy. She said she had never been treated so well in any other place of business, in or out of health care. I was already happy to receive such great feedback from our patient, but then she went into even greater detail. The patient said that she called to schedule her first appointment and spoke with Anita, who she could tell was smiling even though their conversation was over the phone. When she arrived for her appointment, she was greeted by Anita—and sure enough, Anita was smiling.
The patient went on to tell me how she always felt welcomed in our clinic. She said it seemed more like a gathering of friends where the conversation was always friendly, the vibe was always upbeat, and the direction was always supportive. She knew all of the therapists by name—Jenna, Alex, Jordon, Ryan—and praised them for always being there to guide her, make sure she was comfortable, and push her to work harder. The team worked together effortlessly, she said.
Her therapist, Stacey, she next told me, was nothing short of amazing. She went on to explain that her shoulder problems had kept her from doing the things that she loved, but with Stacey’s help, she can now get back to playing golf and carrying her granddaughter once again. This patient smiled a lot as she told me this story (I am sensing a theme here). She said she had come to think of the staff at Foothills Sports Medicine family and didn’t want to leave.
I am very proud of this conversation I had with our patient that day, as well as many other similar conversations with previous patients. I am personally committed to make sure that every patient that walks through our door can have an experience such as this. I am not interested in just going through the motions; others can do that. We strive to provide not just elite physical therapy services, but an experience that will set us apart from others, something that will impact our clients not just while they are visiting, but throughout their day and the rest of their lives. We are committed to growing our family beyond our walls and into the community we serve.
Our commitment is simple: we will do everything in our power to ensure that you have the very best Health Care experience possible. The ultimate goal of physical therapy is for the patient to achieve freedom from pain, understand how to prevent re-injury, and get back to the activities they love. I am very proud of Foothills Sports Medicine commitment to creating a unique Health Care experience, and I will make sure that the Arrowhead Team continues to do our part to honor that commitment.
Stop by and see us. There is something happening here.
Trigger point dry needling has taken the Physical Therapy world by storm in the last couple of years, becoming a treatment staple for Physical Therapists in the management of myofascial restrictions, and the associated pain and dysfunction.
OK great, what is it?
Dry needling involves the use of a filament needle in order to free up restricted muscle fibers and / or myofascial tissue, which can be known as a trigger point. Muscles are made up of longitudinal fibers that glide along one another during any form or muscle movement or contraction. Areas of muscle often become motion-restricted, limiting proper movement of these fibers. This happens for a variety of reasons including poor strength / fatigue, trauma, over use, repetitive motion leading to overload, or poor oxygen or blood supply. It is important to remember that muscle fibers have 2 endpoints (think of the muscle fiber as a connective cable). These endpoints each attach to a bone or joint, and a band of restricted fibers (trigger point) can be very painful itself, but can also lead to movement dysfunction at the bone or joint where it is ultimately attached.
The Physical Therapist utilizes a filament needle, inserting it directly into the myofascial restriction, which through a series of chemical and electrical mechanisms elicits a twitch response in the muscle, releasing the restriction, relieving pain, and restoring proper movement.
Is it similar to acupuncture?
Actually, nothing like it. Acupuncture is a key component of Traditional Chinese medicine, which theoretically increases healing energy flow or “chi”, through geographic distributions in the body, known as meridians. Dry Needling, on the other hand, is much more assessment driven, and the treatment applied is specific to the needs of the patient, and the condition being treated. A skilled therapist will identify the biomechanical dysfunction, which is contributing to the patients’ pain or other symptoms. Often, restricted myofascial tissue or muscles, is / are contributing to the pain or dysfunction. The Physical Therapist can then release the restricted muscles using Dry Needling, relieving pain and restoring proper movement!
Is it safe?
Absolutely! While it is essential to find a skilled Physical Therapist to implement the procedure, Trigger Point Dry Needling has an outstanding safety record.
Does it hurt?
There is minimal sensation as the filament needle is inserted into the skin. As the needle is advanced toward and into the trigger point, a cramping sensation is often noticed by the patient, and there can be mild discomfort in the immediate area, or in a referral zone corresponding to the muscle being treated.
What Conditions Are Treated With Dry Needling?
A wide variety of musculoskeletal conditions can be treated with Dry Needling, including sprains, strains, sports injuries, chronic pain, head aches, postural dysfunction, and movement disorders. Dry needling can be an effective part of treatment for almost ANY condition in which myofascial restrictions or tight muscles is a component.
Sounds Great! What do I do NOW?
Call your Physical Therapist at a Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy nearest you (www.foothillsrehab.com), and schedule a consultation. The therapist will take your history, assess your condition or injury, and design a comprehensive program. They will describe the procedure, and indicate if you are a candidate to benefit from Trigger Point Dry Needling!