Dry Needling is a pain management therapy that is gaining traction in the orthopedic medicine world. Treatment of pain is a real challenge for Western Medicine, but the opioid epidemic in this country has made finding alternatives a priority. This is where trigger point acupuncture, also called dry needling, comes into play. The term “dry needling” was coined by Janet Travell, author of the book Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: Trigger Point Manual. Dry Needling is the use of acupuncture needles to deactivate trigger points in the muscle tissue. A trigger point is a pesky knot of pain the muscles tissue. All the deep tissue massage and stretching in the world doesn’t seem to get rid of them. But needles can, and quite effectively.
Why is it called Dry Needling?
It is called Dry Needling as opposed to wet needling, where a substance is injected into the tissues. In some states physical therapists do this therapy. Here in California, only acupuncturists and medical doctors are licensed to use the needles, and perform Dry Needle therapy. As an orthopedic acupuncturist, I use this type of therapy quite often, and I see very good results with patients who can’t seem to get lasting relief otherwise.
Dry Needling and Trigger Points
Dry Needling addresses myofascial trigger point pain, or what is commonly called a “knot”. The concept of trigger points was discovered by Dr. Janet Travell in the 1940s (she later went on to be Kennedy’s White House physician). She defined a trigger point as “a hyperirritable spot in skeletal muscle that is associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule in a taut band.”
What Does Dry Needling Feel Like?
Practitioners insert acupuncture needles into the irritable and sensitive knots in the muscle tissue. Often an immediate local twitch response is elicited. This can feel like a quick little cramp. It is actually a release of the trigger point, and the muscle tissue relaxes while blood and energy circulation is restored. This release is also be called “breaking up a knot”, and inflammatory chemicals are realeased from the specific spot. This release of chemicals will create a local soreness in the area, similar to what happens after an intense workout. This soreness usually lasts about 12 to 48 hours. When it subsides, there is a very obvious relaxation of the muscle tissues, and pain levels are decreased, while range of motion and mobility is greatly increased.
How Long Before I feel Better?
Everybody responds differently. Sometimes after just one treatment there is a dramatic reduction of pain. Usually I like to see a person for 4-6 sessions to treat trigger points. Then perhaps once every few months for a tune-up.