To call me stubborn would be an understatement. I still won’t listen to songs by the band London Beat solely because a British guy, with whom I used to play paintball, pissed me off over 8 years ago. So, when I hurt my shoulder due to bad form on ring dips, naturally I chose to avoid seeking treatment and just dealt with it. The pain continued and increased over a period of two years and started affecting my lifts and other movements in the Box.
I had overheard Coach Amanda and Angela talk about this “dry needling” thing they were having done and how it helped their various ailments. I was skeptical, but it sounded interesting, however I don’t like needles, I don’t like doctors, and I don’t like people touching me. But the shoulder pain had increased to a point that I couldn’t take it anymore and Amanda and Angela finally convinced me to give dry needling a try.
On my first visit to Rehab 2 Perform, I was evaluated by Dr. Josh. We went over my issues; he assessed my range of motion limitations, and noted several imbalances in my posture and movements. Within a few minutes, he had developed a physical therapy plan and had me on the floor of the Frederick Indoor Sports Center stretching and doing targeted exercises to address my pain. He scheduled an appointment with Dr. Zach, “The Dry Needler”.
I walked into my next visit totally not knowing what to expect. I had visions of Han Solo being tortured in Cloud City.
But it was nothing like that. Dr. Zach had already shared notes with Dr. Josh and knew where to start. He explained that I would feel a little pinch and I might feel some light twitching. Dr. Zach said that he would just do some light treatment today and see how I did with it. I was waiting to be given a bite stick, but none were offered. The sensation was largely as Dr. Zach described, with a slight pinch felt as each needle was inserted. It was quite bearable. I could feel him manipulate the needle by tapping on it or sometimes moving it around slightly. As he found the trigger points, the muscles would suddenly twitch, helping to release the knots and ease the soreness.
Interestingly, most of his work wasn’t on my shoulder at all, but on my pectoral muscle and some back muscle whose name escapes me. Apparently, the shoulder is comprised of a web of interlocking and overlapping muscles and ligaments, and pain in one area can actually be caused by stress or injury to a completely different area.
After our session I went home and surveyed the damage. To my surprise there was no gushing blood. The only evidence of the treatment was a few groupings of tiny dots, almost like freckles, at the treatment sites where the needles were inserted. The treated areas were a bit sore, but I put a heating pad on them, and felt much better just a short time later.
Subsequent treatments increased in aggressiveness, with Dr. Zach assessing how much I was willing to tolerate. It took about five sessions, but the pain was gradually decreasing and range of motion was dramatically improved. I continued with a home program of stretches and exercises. Within weeks, I was close to 100% on the injured shoulder.
So how does this mystical treatment work and where did it originate? I asked Dr. Zach these questions and expected to be directed to ancient China for its history. I was surprised to learn that it started with an American, Dr. Janet Travell, who was doing a study on Cortisone injections. In the 1999 study, patients were given a Cortisone injection or insertion of a needle, without an injection. Dr. Travell found nearly identical results between the two groups. It was determined that the medication was not what was affecting the results; it was the insertion of the needle. Dry needling was born.
Dr. Travell used hypodermic needles in her pioneering treatment of Myofascial Pain Release, but Dr. Yun-Tao Ma, the founder of Integrative Systemic Dry Needling (ISDN), popularized the use of acupuncture needles for dry needling in the United States.
Dry needling works by disrupting the abnormal electrical and chemical activity among pain receptors within the trigger points. The local twitch response causes these areas to release and normalize through an increase in blood flow and restoration of the normal electrical and chemical environment. Deactivated trigger points draw white blood cells and plasma cells into the area and create a healing response. Dry needling reduces muscle tension and improves pain, muscle length and flexibility.
Dry needling is considered a subset of acupuncture by some, but differs in that only one needle is typically inserted at a time and is then manipulated to access and release a local trigger point, or knotted muscle. Acupuncture involves multiple needles being inserted along various meridian systems throughout the body. Pain in one area may be treated by a inserting a needle into an area far away from that pain sensation. Acupuncture is also said to be able to affect treatment of internal organs and body tissues, where dry needling only works on the area of insertion.
It took a lot of pain and suffering for me to agree to what I consider as an extreme treatment. I wish I had gone to Rehab 2 Perform sooner. During my visits to R2P, I’ve run into all sorts of people, from regular Janes and Joes just trying to address a nagging pain, to people recovering from a surgical procedure, to athletes of various sports looking for a touch up treatment to get them ready for a competition. I’m no longer a skeptic. As evidence of dry needling’s popularity, R2P has hired a second doctor trained to perform dry needling to address the frequency of its demand.
So if you’ve got pain that just won’t go away, or an impingement or injury that just isn’t getting better with whatever treatment you’re giving it, consider seeing “The Needler” at Rehab 2 Perform. If I can submit and resign to giving it a try, so can you.