I became interested in dry needling after I was informed that the trigger point injections I was getting were not a wise long-term plan. Both trigger point injections and dry needling have been helpful in lessening the severely painful muscle spasms I have in my neck and shoulders, but the steroids they inject with trigger point injections can be dangerous if repeated too often. So I turned to dry needling which involves a needle being inserted into the same trigger points, but not injecting anything. (Dry needling is used to treat all kinds of pain, not just shoulder muscle spasms.)
As I understand it, the medical procedure goes like this: My fabulous physical therapy doctor Irene inserts a needle into a trigger point (i.e., my most sensitive points of pain) then moves the needle around until she elicits a twitch of the spasmed muscle. This twitch disrupts nerve signals and ultimately relaxes the knots plaguing me. Here’s one company’s summary of the process and here is a short YouTube video showing a real patient getting dry needled.
Does it help and does it hurt? In my experience, yes and yes. During the procedure (which I get done 1-2x week) some of the needling causes a really intense pain that takes my breath away. For weeks and weeks I bragged to people that the pain was just awful, but that I could somehow “separate” myself from the pain when it got really bad and therefore could handle it. That was when my appointments were in the afternoon. Then one day I had a morning appointment – before I had taken my usual 10:45 first dose of Tramadol. Not surprisingly, that day I had trouble “separating” myself from the pain. Not such a super tough patient after all.
I often leave my appointment feeling like I have deep open incisions all over my shoulders. The next day, I feel really good – way better than I did before my appointment – and my shoulders are much much looser. For me, the discomfort is worth it because the spasms torture me to such an extent I think I will go crazy if I don’t get some relief. I joke that if they weren’t sticking needles in me, sooner or later out of frustration I’d be sticking a fork in my shoulder myself.
My Dry Needling Pointers
* If a practice says your insurance doesn’t cover dry needling, try other places before you give up. I’ve been turned down by offices saying they take my insurance but that my insurance doesn’t cover dry needling, and then had the procedures covered in full at another medical office. I guess they must bill dry needling differently at different offices.
* After your appointment, resist the urge to curl into a ball and lay still. The more you move around and stay loose, the quicker the pain will dissapate.
* Do the accompanying stretches your PT doctor tells you to every day. It will make the effects of the dry needling last longer. But do them gently or you’ll just make things worse.
* Let your PT doctor know exactly how much you think you can take. It’s okay to say, “I only want 4 needles today please.” Make it work for you, not to you.
(This is not medical advice; I am simply relaying my own experiences for those interested. I am not a medical professional or a dry needling expert.)