The most frequent question I receive as a dry needling certified physical therapist is, “Will it hurt?” The short answer to this question is, yes initially. The longer, more beneficial answer to this question is to explain how this “hurt” will be different than your current pain and why it can be highly beneficial in reducing and even eliminating your pain as a whole. Dry needling, as performed by a certified and licensed physical therapist, utilizes single-use monofilament needles (acupuncture needles) inserted into soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia) in order to provide for the natural internal pain relief mechanisms to occur. It can also provide for later success with more traditional manual therapy techniques related to soft tissue recovery and healing.
The initial insertion of the needle may be recognized as a pinprick or deep throbbing sensation; however, this awareness typically resolves within 15 seconds and is referred to as an “ah shi” moment, or a “that’s the spot” reaction. THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ATTACKING YOUR PAIN ON THE SPOT! The remaining duration of the treatment may include electrical stimulation of the needles (mostly chronic pain scenarios) in which a slight tapping or tingling sensation may be felt similar to that of a TENS or e-stim unit (if you’ve experienced either previously). Most times with acute pain, electrical stimulation is not utilized as it is unnecessary to achieve desired results. So, let’s get to know your type of pain.
Acute Vs. Chronic Pain
- Sudden onset related to injury (i.e.: sprained ankle, broken bone, burn, laceration, etc.)
- Relates to visible and physical site of injury
- Pain resolves with healing of tissues involved
- Pain that persists > 12 weeks/3 months
- Usually related to an underlying cause (i.e.: arthritis, cancer, neurologic injury, prolonged immobility, etc.)
- Involves emotional components related to fear, anxiety, and depression
- Continues beyond visible and physical tissue healing process
Both acute and chronic pain can limit your ability to perform daily tasks related to self-care, work, and home management. Dry needling treatment related to both will be different in duration and technique based upon a complete physical therapy evaluation and plan developed with you.
Post Neurologic Incident Pain
As previously stated, chronic pain is usually related to an underlying cause. Within our day neuro program, many of our stroke and spinal cord injury survivors do experience some level of pain within their recovery/rehabilitative efforts. Soft tissue and joint pain that is initiated by an underlying neurologic process include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Spasticity related tension/restriction
- Contracture development per muscle atrophy
- Overuse-related to compensatory movement patterns
- Unilateral joint pain/compression from increased weight support
- Headaches related to tension and postural malalignment
- Neck and low back pain due to postural inequalities
Dry needling can be successfully utilized to treat these impairments at the site of soft tissue pain and related regions as necessary. This can improve joint range of motion, pain-free joint mobility, functional extremity strengthening and retraining, as well as potential adaptive equipment fitting and procurement for long-term independence gains.
The inclusion of dry needling assisted manual therapy has tremendously impacted my practice as a physical therapist, specifically within the treatment of our neurologically involved population. The improvements within joint mobility, reduction in potentially detrimental overuse injuries, and pain relief allowing greater functional gains within our patients is a continual reminder of the importance of utilizing every tool within our toolbox, as clinicians, in order to maximize our intervention effectiveness and efficiency. Yes, dry needling might “hurt” for a few short seconds, but it might also provide you with significantly improved function and quality of life long term. Please contact us at 225-906-4097 if you are interested in learning more about our dry needling program or would like a tour of our facility.