This is a question we get all the time and it is a fair one. To be honest, we didn’t know what it was 5 years ago! It has come onto the healthcare scene like a tornado out of nowhere, and it is one of the largest game changers in getting people better quicker in the past 10 years.
Just because we heard about dry needling in the last few years doesn’t mean it is anything new. It has been around for a LONG time! The catch is that there has not been a ton of research done on it, which is why insurance companies are not really paying providers for it.
Crazy to think that they wouldn’t pay for a technique that can fix pain in the blink of an eye, but it’s true.
That being said, there is more and more research being done on dry needling, and the findings have been pretty cool.
To explain how it works, we are going to use an analogy to best describe what is happening at the tissue level when dry needling is indicated and when it can be the most effective.
Think of pieces of spaghetti on a plate laid out parallel to each other, maybe each one 5 inches long. Now take a fork and spin that spaghetti around the fork. The spaghetti is still technically 5 inches long, but end to end it may only look like it is 2 inches long because the rest of it is twirled around the fork. This is essentially what happens when a trigger point is present in a muscle.
You know, those pesky knots that when you touch make you want to jump out of your skin? Ya, those. Trigger points are naturally occurring in muscle tissue after exercise or other activities and can lay there latent for a long time without you ever knowing they are there… until they are a problem.
When a trigger point is present, there is a change in the chemical balance of sodium and potassium as well as a decreased ability for the muscle to contract as strongly as it normally could. The tissue is dehydrated, and the elastic properties of the tissue change from a brand new rubber band to one that has been sitting in your drawer for 5 years. You get the picture… it isn’t good.
Now the latent trigger point may not cause you problems for awhile, but at some point there may be an event that turns it from a latent trigger point to an active one. When that happens, you will feel pain or discomfort often in a different place than the trigger point location.
That is what makes trigger point muscle pain difficult to locate and treat. The cause of the pain is rarely at the location of the pain. For instance, a trigger point in your calf can be the cause of your back hurting. A trigger point in the muscles on your shoulder blade can make your elbow or wrist hurt. It is crazy where these referral patterns can go.
When you place a needle into these trigger points, or “spaghetti twirls”, you are looking to make the muscle twitch. When this happens, the spaghetti falls off the fork, the tissue returns to its original 5 inch length, the sodium potassium channels rebalance, the elasticity returns to more like that new rubber band and the pain is significantly reduced if not fixed. Yes, all that can happen with a simple twitch!
The key is to be able to find the active trigger point that is causing the pain or the latent trigger point that is causing decreased muscle strength and poor elastic tissue quality that is likely hampering how you are able to move. This is where making sure you go to a licensed professional is critical, so they can identify the important areas for you to treat and not just stick you with a ton of needles.
At Par4success, we are those professionals with years of experience working with people just like you to get you back to doing what you love faster and for less money.