Dry needle therapy, sometimes called trigger point dry needling (TDN) or intramuscular stimulation (IMS), is the practice of inserting and manipulating needles into the muscle to relieve pain. It is similar, but not identical, to acupuncture. Dry needle therapy is an effective treatment for the muscular tension and spasm that accompany a variety of conditions such as arthritis, muscle and ligament strain, and nerve irritation. It is commonly performed with a small solid filament needle (the same type used in acupuncture), though originally a small hypodermic needle was used. It is called “dry needling”, because though it used a hypodermic needle (similar to those use to administer vaccinations or medications) no solution was injected into the muscle; it was a “dry” needle.
When tissues are damaged, either by injury or repetitive use, inflammation will occur. At the same time, the tissues will go into a contracted state, restricting movement to reduce further injury. The inflammation and contracture limit blood flow to the area, which promotes the formation of scar tissue and fibrosis. Over time, this can constrict nerves and inhibit function of the muscle.
With dry needle therapy, a needle is inserted into the affected knotted muscle, called a trigger point, causing a local twitch reflex. This spinal reflex causes the muscle fibers to contract around the needle. This breaks the pain cycle, decreasing muscle tension and irritation, which in turn reduces pain and increases range of motion. Additionally, the insertion of the needle will cause an immune system reaction, as the cells race to the site of invasion, ready to heal the cut tissues. This infusion of blood and nutrients will help the original injury heal more quickly. Dry needle therapy is used in conjunction with other therapies to retrain the muscle to work in its newly released state, providing lasting pain relief.
Unlike acupuncture, which is based on the theory of restoring the body’s natural flow of energy, dry needle therapy targets trigger points that are actually causing the patient pain. Acupuncture relies on the systemic release of cortisol, while dry needling inactivates trigger points, relaxing muscles to relieve pain. It produces mechanical and biochemical effects, achieving results not possible with other treatments. Dry needle therapy is practiced by practitioners trained in physical therapy, such as those at the Mile High Spine & Pain Center.
During the procedure, you may feel the insertion of the needle, though many patients do not. The twitch response, essential to the effectiveness of dry needle therapy, causes a very brief painful sensation. This is often described as a cramping feeling, or a feeling similar to an electric shock. The local twitch reflex means the needle has been inserted correctly. After the procedure, you will likely feel some mild muscle soreness in the treated area. Heat or cold therapy may help relieve this soreness. You may also use over the counter pain relievers if necessary.
Sterile needles will be used for your treatment, so there is little risk associated with the procedure. Tell your practitioner if you are pregnant or have other medical conditions, so they can discuss any specific risk for your situation.
Dry Needle Therapy can be used to treat a variety of conditions. If you suffer from any of the following conditions, the practitioners at the Mile High Spine & Pain Center may recommend dry needling as part of your therapy.
Because no drugs are used, multiple trigger points can be deactivated with each session. It may take several sessions to experience full relief from your pain. Your practitioner at the Mile High Spine & Pain Center will discuss with you the number and frequency of treatments required for your condition.
If you are suffering from muscle or joint pain, the team at the Mile High Spine & Pain Center can develop a treatment plan for you. They will be able to determine if dry needle therapy is right for you. The Mile High Spine & Pain Center works with patients in the Broomfield and Westminster areas, and accepts most insurance plans. Call today at (720) 507-0080 to schedule your free consultation.