At Carolina Total Wellness we understand that our services and support are sometimes only part of the solution in optimizing our patients’ health. We have worked over the years with various medical providers in our community to establish a base of high-quality clinicians who are able to meet the various health needs of our patients. This is the first in a series of guest blogs from one of our community providers. Dr. Kari Smith, PT, DPT, describes one of her approaches to treating pain – dry needling.
What is dry needling?
Dry Needling is a soft tissue manual therapy technique performed by a certified clinician with a professional degree in the medical field. The clinician safely guides a sterile monofilament needle into dysfunctional muscle tissue to aid in pain reduction and restoration of proper movement patterns. This technique involves identifying and treating a muscle trigger point (a collection of muscle fibers that lack healthy blood supply, have a higher resting electrical state and contain pain-generating chemicals). Left untreated, muscle trigger points can lead to altered joint movement, as well as increased stress on surrounding soft tissue.
A clinician may also use dry needling with electric stimulation to release overactive primary muscles, or to wake up dormant stabilizing muscles by improving their neural response. Primary muscle groups are comprised mostly of fast-twitch muscle fibers, so they fatigue quickly and require de-activation to recover. Stabilizing muscles contain more slow-twitch fibers and can withstand longer bouts of activation. Our bodies experience pain or movement dysfunction when the stabilizing muscles are inactive, and the larger muscle groups work over-time. Through dry needling with electric stimulation, the clinician activates these stabilizing muscles so that stress is taken off primary muscle groups, allowing these larger muscle groups to function optimally, but also have time for recovery.
Does it hurt?
The needles are much smaller than ones used for an injection, so often patients do not feel the insertion of the needle in the skin. There is also nothing injected (as the needle is solid), so patients do not experience the burning sensation that is commonly felt when a fluid is injected into the body. The most common sensation is a light cramping when the needle activates a deep twitch response in the trigger point. This is an effective response that is documented in the literature that indicates that the trigger point has been released and immediate changes in muscle length are observed. Some patients feel soreness after the treatment, similar to muscle fatigue after a strenuous workout. Your therapist will be in constant communication with you throughout the procedure to alter or cease treatment as needed.
How will I know the treatment is effective?
Your therapist will perform a series of pre-treatment tests to determine areas of pain, movement dysfunction, or loss in strength. Following treatment, these areas will be re-assessed for improvement, and often there are immediate results. Your therapist will then recommend corrective exercises to maintain the gains made during the manual therapy session.
If you are suffering from pain and feel that dry needling may be of benefit to you, feel free to discuss this with your functional medicine physician at Carolina Total Wellness or contact Dr. Smith at Prevail physical therapy.