Can dry needling help athletes recover faster?

By Steve Kravitz on 17th Apr 2019

Dry needling therapy provides quick relief for muscle strains and can improve flexibility. Steve Kravitz, founder of Steve Kravitz Physical Therapy, outlines how this treatment works, and how it can help…

Trey, a member of a well-known theatre cast, strained his calf during a performance. When he came to Gena Thurston, DPT, CIDN of Steve Kravitz Physical Therapy, he reported pain with walking and dancing to the point he was sure he would not perform the next day.

“When I first saw Trey, he was in quite a bit of pain from a muscle spasm and unable to relax,” says Thurston. Knowing that Trey wanted to perform the next day and needed quick relief, Thurston decided to dry needle Trey’s calf.

What is dry needling?
Dry needling is a specialized technique using thin needles to ease muscle and joint pain. There are a few techniques to carry this out, depending on the cause of the pain. In Trey’s case, where muscle was contracted, Thurston used dry needling to “deactivate” trigger points, or painful knots, to provide decreased muscle pain and soreness, and increased flexibility.

“With trigger points, we insert the needle in the muscle knots in order to elicit a twitch response,” says Thurston. She goes on to say that this twitch response signals an intramuscular release. “The twitch response is the muscle’s way of relaxing,” adds Thurston. “When the muscle is relaxed, we can begin therapies to promote healing and prevent additional injury.”

Other dry needling techniques involve in-and-out insertion or inserting needles in areas around the point of pain to treat larger areas or radiating pain.

How does it work?
Dry needling is an evidence-based approach to treating muscle, joint and nerve pain. When the needle is inserted, it creates a lesion in the tissue that can stimulate a twitch response to get the muscle to relax. “We also use dry needling to affect the nervous system for desensitization,” adds Thurston.

Unlike massage, dry needling allows therapists to get deeper into the muscle where the source of the pain may lie. For example, a lumbar strain may involve the multifidus, the deepest low back muscle and very difficult to palpate, especially with athletes. Dry needling allows you to go through superficial structures and ensure you got the muscle and achieve your therapeutic goal.

Who can benefit from dry needling?
Thurston says most physical therapy patients can benefit from dry needling in addition to other manual therapies but especially those suffering from pain due to muscle strain, as in the case of migraines or headaches due to muscle tension, TMJ pain, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, or back pain stemming from muscle strain. “Dry needling is great for people with acute (recent) or chronic (prolonged) injuries because it’s a way to get better, faster,” adds Thurston.

However, Thurston is quick to say it is used only when patients do not have an aversion to needles. “We don’t want to force anyone to have dry needling,” she says.

Trey’s results
For Trey, the effect was both immediate and lasting. He was sore following treatment but was able to return to performing. “It’s not unusual for patients to have some soreness following a dry needling session,” reports Thurston, but added, “Immediately after a session, pain from contractions and lesions is replaced with soreness. However, this subsides and the patient is left with relief and increased movement.”

Dry needling is performed by healthcare professionals with advanced training and certification that allow these clinicians to assess and treat. Thurston attended a specialized course and has extensive experience using dry needling to treat patients. She recommends patients look for clinicians with CIDN or Cert-DN credentials and extensive experience. “Experience provides a therapist with more confidence in treating smaller, deeper muscles and more complex regions of the body,” says Thurston.

Steve Kravitz Physical Therapy, located at 2000 Glen Echo Road, Suite 209, in Greenhills, provides a multidisciplinary approach to hands-on physical therapy with sessions tailored to patients’ specific needs. For more information on dry needling or to make an appointment for an evaluation, call 615.840.3281.

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