Maybe you pulled a muscle while working out or suffer from shoulder tension related to stress. What if I told you I had a solution that could provide immediate and lasting relief? Allow me to introduce one of my favorite techniques that I use in my practice all the time: Dry needling physical therapy.
Dry needling has been around in the PT world since the 80s, but has become more popular in the past few years. And for good reason. Not only does it alleviate pain and tightness, but it also helps muscles move effectively. In fact, I’ve had dry needling for knee pain from running, and for neck and shoulder tightness and I felt like a new person afterwards. I’m confident that you’ll like it as much as I do!
What is dry needling physical therapy?
Dry needling is a technique where you insert a super thin needle into a muscle to penetrate it and help it relax. It can also help turn on a muscle that may be hard for you to activate on your own, improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and calm down irritated nerves. Think of it as the deepest and most effective deep-tissue massage you could ever get.
Dry needling is most often used to release muscle tension. When muscles are tight and tense, they can cause pain and not work as they should. Let me give you a visual. Think of your muscle like a box of uncooked spaghetti. When you open the box, the pieces of spaghetti slide against each other really well.
That’s because muscles are essentially a bunch of small fibers stacked on top of each other. When a muscle contracts, the fibers slide towards each other and shorten the muscle. When a muscle relaxes, the fibers side away from each other and lengthen the muscle. So, when you have tightness and knots in your muscles, it’s like cooking little chunks of the spaghetti. Imagine trying to slide partially cooked spaghetti out of the box…it doesn’t slide very well does it?
Dry needling “uncooks” those cooked areas of spaghetti so they can slide on each other again. This allows your muscles to work like they’re supposed to, leaving you with less pain and more strength! The really cool thing is that dry needling has an immediate effect. Most of the time, people stand up after a needling treatment and notice improvement right away.
What types of problems can dry needling treat?
There are all kinds of problems that dry needling can help alleviate including:
- Neck and back pain
- Muscle strains
- Running-related and overuse injuries
- Tendonitis of the quad, rotator cuff, glutes, hamstring, Achilles tendon, and tennis elbow
- Hip and knee pain
- Some nerve problems like pinched nerves and neuralgias
What does it feel like?
Many people don’t experience pain when the needles are being inserted, but it is common to feel muscle twitches or cramping. Typically, folks will feel a little achy for a day or two after their treatment, similar to muscle soreness after exercising.
What makes dry needling most effective?
Dry needling helps relax tight and tense muscles. But muscles don’t get tight and tense for no reason, so it’s most effective when combined with treatment that addresses the cause of the muscle tension.
I nearly always combine dry needling with mobility exercises, strength training, movement retraining, posture correction, and stress management techniques. This way, your muscles can learn a new way of being so they don’t default back to being tense.
Is this the same thing as acupuncture?
Nope! The only thing that acupuncture and dry needling have in common is that they both use a needle. Dry needling doesn’t follow a map of predetermined points or affect energy or organ systems as acupuncture does. Instead, it focuses on the specific soft tissue structure and typically has a much deeper application than acupuncture.
How can I try dry needling?
Physical therapists, physicians, and chiropractors are able to get certified in dry needling, however not all do. When searching for a provider, be sure to ask if dry needling is a service they provide.