Does dry needling actually work?
When I do a musculoskeletal examination and find soft tissue problems—a muscle that’s doing too much or not enough—in the past as a Chiropractor, I could use a laser, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, Active Release Technique, different tools, manipulation or mobilization.
There are many techniques to try to get muscles to reset so I could then take the patient into exercise, maybe tape a little bit and provide some re-training.
What has happened over recent years because of new research, we’ve learned that a well-placed needle right into a trigger point or right into the soft tissue can reset that muscle with less pain and less work than sometimes even my hands could do. This intrigued me.
And it’s a powerful one. I’ve seen some amazing results and have personally benefited by some competent people with dry needling. It’s not the only thing I do now, but it’s one of the most powerful techniques in my toolbox.
It’s changed some things for me that weren’t changed with conventional therapy and orthopedic treatment. It’s changed some of these issues in a very short amount of time; I’m a big fan and a practitioner.
If it has a muscle involved, the best of the best can figure out a safe way to put a needle in that and reset it. Sometimes the superficial trigger points are easy to get to, but many times, those aren’t the ones driving the system.
Let me give you an example.
If the deep muscles in your glutes don’t do their jobs, you’ll start using the muscles in your thigh incorrectly. By doing that, you’ll develop some tightness in the thigh. You’ll get these trigger points in your thighs that a foam roller can sometimes give you some temporary relief from.
The thing you might not be aware of is that an examination would show that you have more problems in your hip than your thigh. So, your thigh muscle was the victim of a poor movement pattern and had to work overtime because your hip wasn’t doing the job.
You’ll point at your thigh saying, “Can you get rid of this trigger point for me?” We can rub on it and we can do other things. It’s a superficial trigger point, so I can get to it with my thumbs, but you never have any long-term relief. Every time you stress yourself out, your thighs get jacked up again. When we needle the thighs, we have a relaxing effect on the thighs, but when we needle the deep muscles of the hip, we have an activating effect.
Whether your muscle is overacting inappropriately or under-acting inappropriately, the needle seems to have a normalizing effect. It’s one of the best reset buttons I’ve seen.
It’s not as painful deep tissue work. It doesn’t take as long as electrical stimulation or ultrasound. There’s an immediate feedback, so we know within two or three minutes of treatment if we changed anything, from both a pain standpoint and a movement standpoint.
The two things I want from the patients who come into my clinic are what they tell me and what they don’t tell me. That’s why I’m such a big proponent of doing movement tests. If I make you feel better but move worse, I don’t pat myself on the back. I need to make you move better.
Sometimes you’ll temporarily feel worse, but the next day, you’ll feel much better. That’s fine, but I have to be able to change movement with what I do in order to feel confident we’re moving in the right direction. I’m not just doing this to make you temporarily feel better. I must change movement.
My thing is that we must then come behind that with postural work and some exercises to keep things from defaulting back to the bad software and keep the good software on board.
It’s what I do before I throw you into exercise because I want to hit reset on your computer before I try to load any new software. It’s a great one-two punch.