Move over, acupuncture. Physical therapists are adding a new needle to their toolkits, and it may be effective at banishing bodily aches and pains. Unlike acupuncture, an ancient practice said to manipulate the flow of energy or qi to promote healing, dry needling works directly on the painful points in muscles practitioners refer to as trigger points.
“Think of muscles as a rope,” says Matt Minard, DPT, a physical therapist with Carolinas Rehabilitation in Charlotte, NC. “If you get a knot, it can affect the muscle’s ability to contract, lengthen or function properly.” Using a needle the thickness of a human hair, he says he can break up that pesky knot.
Therapists usually use dry needling to augment other types of treatment, like stretching. Yet Minard calls it “the most powerful tool in my belt.” Not all PTs offer it, so ask if yours has been trained in the technique. We won’t lie—dry needling hurts, and you’ll be sore for a few days afterwards. Although the research isn’t conclusive, and more is definitely needed, the evidence so far suggests that dry needling might be worth a try for the following problems:
LOWER BACK PAIN
Dry needling may help you get you off the sidelines. In a recent study from Spain, the treatment improved pain, disability, and sensitivity to pressure in people with chronic low back pain.
Points of stress in the neck, shoulder and spine often lead to chronic tension headaches. But targeting these tender trigger spots with needles may help, according to a small review of studies from Australia. Patients in one study felt 30 percent less headache pain after just one session. Migraines and Headaches
Hunching at a computer all day can lead to serious neck pain. But dry needling may help, say researchers in Spain. People who did a combination of dry needling and stretching four times over two weeks improved their pain, range of motion, and neck muscle strength more than folks who simply stretched. Even better, the results lasted up to six months afterwards.
Surgery is never fun, but dry needling might make the post-op period less painful, suggests a study from Spain. A group of patients got a single session of dry needling following knee replacement, while a second group got a placebo treatment. The results were startling: Patients who got dry needling had as much pain relief in one month as those who got the placebo (standard treatment) in six months. Plus, patients who got dry needling used fewer painkillers. That may be because people who need knee replacements often have painful trigger points in muscles in their legs, and dry needling helps loosen them up.
ROTATOR CUFF INJURY
Volleyball spikes, tennis serves, or swimming strokes can wreak havoc on your shoulders, specifically the rotator cuff—the tendons that attach to the ball of the shoulder joint. But in a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, patients who underwent dry needling and a muscle-strengthening program one to two times a week for up to eight weeks reduced their pain and improved their shoulder function. One theory is your tissue winds around the needle, triggering cell signaling that reduces pain.
If you clench and grind your teeth at night, you irritate your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your upper and lower jaw. This can trigger radiating pain in the jaw and face, painful popping, and a locked jaw. But dry needling may help. Researchers in Spain recently tried the technique on 17 nighttime teeth grinders and found after one treatment, their sensitivity, jaw locking and dysfunction all dropped substantially. What’s more, patients were still feeling good a week later. Inflammation and Disease; the Dangers of Inflammation!
If hip pain limits your workouts, dry needling may be worth a try. In a study in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, people with chronic hip and leg discomfort received dry needling along with stretching and strengthening activities over a four- to eight-week period. Tests showed that their pain decreased and mobility increased.
UPPER BACK PAIN
Preliminary reports on this area look promising. In a U.S. Navy paper, active duty military men with pain and movement limitations in the upper spine received dry needling along with electrical stimulation, a common physical therapy technique. In just two sessions, men’s pain scores decreased, and they could rotate their spines further, indicating an improved range of motion.
Stroke patients may benefit from dry needling, suggests a recent study in The Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapy. Stroke survivors with spasms, pressure sensitivity, and reduced range of motion in their shoulder received either the standard rehabilitation treatment or rehab plus dry needling once a week for three weeks. Then they switched to the other treatment program. The result: Patients became less sensitive to pressure and increased their shoulder motion more after the dry needling intervention than in standard rehab alone.
Often heel aches are caused by plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the tissue band on the bottom of your foot. In a study from Australia, 84 people with the condition got the treatment or a placebo therapy each week for six weeks. Three months later, those getting the real treatment boasted a significant lessening of pain compared to those who received the bogus version.
Original article by: BETH HOWARD