When we contract our muscles repetitively, such as motion in sports activities, jobs or stress-related muscle tension, sensitive trigger points can develop within the muscle itself along the fascia that cover and protect them. These hypersensitive myofascial trigger points can be chronic or active and can feel like pain, weakness, burning, aching or tingling. Not only do they cause pain directly on the originating point in the muscle, but they can make other areas of the muscle feel painful, too.
Katie White, PT, DPT, OCS, manages OrthoCarolina’s Eastover Physical Therapy office and is one of just a few therapists in Charlotte certified in dry needling, a technique that helps eliminate myofascial trigger points. She shared some of her knowledge and expertise about what dry needling is and how it can be an effective form of physical therapy:
Why is dry needling an effective treatment for myofascial trigger points?
Katie: Dry needling can be more effective than regular massage for soft tissue therapy because it gets inside the muscle and releases the point of tension. We are reproducing a twitch response – if the needle is poking into the part of the muscle that’s aggravated and active, the muscle jumps on to the needle and releases all the chemicals that have been keeping it in that short and tight position.
What conditions or injuries can benefit from dry needling?
Katie: A wide range of musculoskeletal issues can actually be aided by dry needling. We use it for chronic neck or back pain at any age. Many endurance athletes, in particular runners, seem drawn to and benefit from dry needling.
What is the difference between chronic and active trigger points?
Katie: Chronic trigger points are pain that often develops over a number of years, or may be latent for a while and sometimes grow worse. Active trigger points can produce radiating and intense pain caused by overuse or misuse of a muscle such as improper form. If you have a weakness somewhere in your musculature you’re more likely to overuse to the muscles.
How is dry needling different from acupuncture?
Katie: We use the same size needles as those used in acupuncture, but with dry needling we go after the exact point of tightness within that band of muscle tissue. Acupuncture usually focuses more on the connection between meridian points and energy in the body.
Does dry needling hurt?
Katie: It does use a needle, and we do insert the needle into the muscle. It is a technique that’s more invasive than what people are used to in regular physical therapy, but the feeling and response will differ from patient to patient. I describe it as an intense feeling like a deep, cramping, twitching sensation.
How many sessions of dry needling will I need to find relief?
Katie: It varies, but typically in about three sessions you’ll notice a significant difference.
How will I feel after the treatment and will I need recovery time?
Katie: During dry needling, when you loosen that muscle with the needle, the body releases its own chemicals. Patients sometimes feel sore after dry needling because those chemicals, which are not dangerous, stay in the body for awhile until the lymphatic system figures out that it needs to clean them up. I tell patients to drink a lot of water to flush it out. They should also stretch and do light activity which will help with restoring blood flow and alleviating soreness.
Is it okay to have dry needling after I have had surgery?
Katie: We usually wait at least 3 months post-op before dry needling. If a patient is still having limitations, dry needling therapy is a treatment we can consider to help them continue recovery.
Katie White, PT, DPT, OCS, is a Physical Therapist and Clinical Manager at OrthoCarolina’s Eastover location. Katie holds a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy from Northeastern University in Boston, MA, and is a Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedics.
To perform dry needling therapy in North Carolina, therapist must have 54 cumulative hours of training and two years of clinical training. Katie is one of just a few physical therapists in Charlotte certified in dry needling.