Myofascial pain occurs when pressure on sensitive “trigger points” in your muscles causes pain in other, seemingly unrelated points on your body.
This referred pain can be caused by muscle tension or repetitive motion, and often worsens with time.
As a physical therapist in Washington DC, we can help.
Here at Capitol Physical Therapy, we employ a number of different methods to help deal with chronic pain, including a technique called dry needling.
Let’s take a closer look at dry needling: what it is, what it does, and how it can help.
What Is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a procedure in which a trained practitioner inserts fine, short needles called “filiform” into the skin.
It can be performed by doctors, physical therapists, some chiropractors, as well as acupuncturists, although it shouldn’t be confused with acupuncture.
The needles are placed on “trigger points”, which are areas where the muscle is hardened, or “knotted”, and remain there for a short period of time.
Other names for dry needling are “trigger point dry needling”, and “myofascial trigger point dry needling”.
Are Dry Needling And Acupuncture The Same Thing?
On the surface, the two seem very similar.
In both, your practitioner will insert small needles into different areas of your skin and muscles.
The needles used in both practices are the same as well, hence the name dry needling, to differentiate it from wet needling, or the hypodermic needles you’d get with an injection.
However, they’re not the same.
The purpose of acupuncture is to open up a person’s “energy flow” or “qi” in order restore healing in the body, whereas dry needling stimulates trigger points to ease the pain.
Dry needling can be used to provide treatment for a number of ailments, including:
- Spinal issues
- Night cramps
- Jaw and mouth issues
- Migraines and tension headaches
- Joint pain
- And more
What Is A Trigger Point?
If you injure yourself or strain your muscles after overusing them, it can create areas of increased sensitivity.
These are called trigger points.
Generally, trigger points feel like a deep ache in a particular spot.
Sometimes they’re referred to as “micro cramps”.
If you have many of them, or if they’re persistent, it may be a sign of myofascial pain syndrome.
Unfortunately, these trigger points tend to be fairly common, and can contribute to a lot of the chronic pain issues we face, including back and neck pain.
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One of the main benefits of dry needling is that it helps address these trigger points.
Are There Different Types Of Dry Needling?
There are two main types of dry needling which a practitioner may use: the “non trigger point” technique and the “in and out” technique.
Let’s have a look at the differences.
1. Non-Trigger Point Technique
With the non trigger point technique, your physical therapist will insert needles near and around your pain point, rather than directly at the source of the pain.
The theory behind this is that pain results from issues in the surrounding nerves or muscles, and thus the treatment should not focus too closely on one area.
2. In And Out Technique
The “in and out” technique, is also called “pistoning” or “sparrow pecking”.
With this method of treatment, your physical therapist pricks the skin with the needle and then removes them.
The needles don’t stay in the skin for an extended period of time.
What Are The Benefits Of Dry Needling?
Broadly speaking, dry needling is a useful technique for a number of different ailments.
Its results tend to be only short term, though, so it’s frequently used alongside other physical therapy treatments in order to get the best results.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of dry needling.
1. Reduces Pain
Dry needling can help to improve muscle flexibility, which in turn can remove pressure from joints, and help to alleviate joint pain.
Targeting trigger points can help to reduce pain locally, while chemical changes in the muscle can influence how pain messages travel to the brain.
A 2019 paper published in the Journal Of Pain Research reviewed the research on dry needling.
It concluded that dry needling has an important place in the world of pain neuroscience, combined with other techniques like manual therapy, heat and cold therapy, therapeutic stretching, and others.
2. Improves Muscle Range
By deactivating trigger points, and releasing muscle tightness, dry needling can help to increase the range of motion in your muscles.
Dry needling also helps to improve muscle activation and recruitment and improve joint mechanics, as outlined in a 2011 paper published in the Journal Of Manual Manipulative Therapy.
The paper cites a few examples of how trigger points alter the activity between muscles.
By addressing these trigger points with dry needling and other techniques, your physical therapist can help you improve your muscle range.
3. Stimulates Healing
When one of your muscles is pricked with a needle, the body’s natural inflammatory response kicks in.
The healing process stimulates the production of protein and collagen, which can help restore the natural function of your muscles.
This ties in with the previous point as well.
By stimulating healing, dry needling from a physical therapist can help you improve your muscle range.
Medical experts across the country recommend dry needling for chronic pain relief and healing.
4. Improves Circulation
Trigger points can limit blood flow and impact the delivery of oxygen to muscles.
In 2010, Sikdar et al published a study where they used ultrasound imaging to examine the blood flow of muscles impacted by trigger points.
They found that trigger points have a different rate of blood flow than healthy muscles.
Particularly, they had a higher systolic flow, and lower diastolic flow.
In other words, the blood flow was higher when the heart beats, and lower between beats, suggesting blood has trouble accessing the muscle due to the tightness.
Dry needling can help to deactivate these trigger points, and thus remove or reduce tightness which blocks blood flow.
Does Dry Needling Hurt?
If you have an aversion to needles, the idea of dry needling might be more than a little scary.
However, most people who experience it report it to be only a mild discomfort if anything.
You may feel a dull ache at certain points, but many consider it to be less painful than a hypodermic needle.
Are There Any Risks To Dry Needling?
As with any method of treatment, dry needling does have some side effects, however they are generally minimal.
A 2020 research study by Boyce et al concludes that adverse reactions to dry needling are rare.
Bruising, bleeding, and soreness are the most common effects which can occur at or near the site of the needling.
Most who receive dry needling treatment report no side effects at all, though, and those that do report that it goes away fairly quickly, sometimes within hours.
Dry needling is considered to be a safe treatment modality and is generally well tolerated.
However, if you have certain medical conditions, or an extreme fear of needles, speak to your physical therapist first.
As well, if you’re on blood thinning medications or recovering from surgery, consult with your physical therapist before starting dry needling treatments.
Additionally, it should not be used on those who aren’t able to understand the treatment procedure for any reason.
Always ask about the equipment and procedures being used, and ensure you’re visiting a reputable clinic when seeking treatments.
Book Your Appointment With Capitol Physical Therapy Today
Do you think you could benefit from dry needling?
Are you tired of muscle pain and soreness making your life more difficult?
Do you want a way to deal with it that doesn’t involve more painkillers?
Or would you like to hear more about the conditions dry needling can help with?
Capitol Physical Therapy wants to help.
We offer a wide variety of physical therapy services to fit all needs.
We even offer telehealth therapy for certain treatments other than dry needling, so you can participate in therapy from the comfort of your own home.
1331 H St NW #200,
Washington, DC 20005
9560 Pennsylvania Ave. # 202,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Capitol Physical Therapy offers orthopedic and other pain related solutions, with our versitile team of physical therapists in Washington, DC