By Pat Staszak, PT

If you’ve ever felt the relaxing benefit of a massage…only to feel tension and pain return relatively quickly, then Trigger Point Needling, aka Functional Dry Needling (FDN) may be something to consider for your chronic muscle tightness, spasms, trigger points or painful joints.

Trigger Point Needling (FDN) uses a very thin filament needle. It’s similar to an acupuncture needle, although this treatment is not considered acupuncture and is based on Western physiologic approaches. Practitioners insert super-fine needles into trigger points, which are hyper-irritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle. This causes a twitch response in the muscles, which in turn causes the tension in the muscle to decrease and the muscles to loosen.

As you might imagine, FDN can be highly effective for treating stubborn trigger points that massage can’t reach. Because trigger points are often deep in the muscle, sometimes the fingers and hands just can't get to them. Usually a healthy muscle feels very little discomfort when the needle is inserted; however, if the muscle is sensitive and shortened or has active trigger points within it, the patient may feel a sensation much like a muscle cramp – this is the “twitch” response.

Trigger points themselves can arise out of repetitive motions or overuse (this includes sitting at a computer all day!) and often follow an injury. Their very nature contributes to the degenerative process as well as chronic pain and dysfunction. Research has shown that these bands of tissue exhibit spontaneous electrical activity at the junction of the nerve at the muscle. After needling, the spontaneous electric activity in the muscle often decreases. FDN may also disrupt a reflex arc of contracted tissue and stimulate biochemical changes to allow improved blood flow and healing to the area.

Muscular tightness and spasms can also cause compression and irritation of the nerves exiting the spine. When these nerves are irritated, they cause a protective spasm of all the muscles they’re connected to. This may cause peripheral diagnoses such as carpel tunnel, tendonitis, osteoarthritis, decreased mobility and chronic pain. FDN at the muscle or the spinal nerve root can release these muscles as well.

As I was doing research for this article, I came across a blog post of Sinead Fitz Gibbon, a physical therapist who is also a professional cyclist and triathlete. She referred to dry needling as, “the missing link in orthopedic manual physical therapy” and felt quite strongly that it holds the key to transforming her practice, and no doubt the entire physical therapy profession. “Dry needling, aka trigger point needling, is simply put, the bomb,” she said.

Powerful words, but I have had a similar experience since attending a continuing education course last May in Functional Dry Needling, with Kineticore. “Game changing” is how I like to refer to the addition of this technique to my physical therapy practice, and in my own healing as well.  

Over the course of 30 hours, we administered this treatment to each other and experienced a powerful dose of this modality firsthand. I chose to have all the work done on the right side of my body – the side with the most muscle tightness and joint restrictions. I felt longstanding patterns of restriction in my hip, lower leg, ankle and foot release after that weekend. I continue to dry needle my calves and lower legs, and it’s helping me manage an unstable and arthritic knee. My posture has improved, I’ve had a breakthrough in my yoga practice, and for the first time in three years, I was able to hike in the dunes for three miles without knee pain!

The results of using FDN for my own patients have been just as impressive. I’ve performed about 75 treatments of needling. (As a requirement for continued certification, I’m keeping a log of the first 200 treatments). It’s been extremely effective in breaking up trigger points in tight and poorly functioning muscles so the soft tissue and joints in the area recover more quickly.  

Is FDN for you? Give us a call to discuss your symptoms. Trigger Point Needling is definitely an effective treatment for acute and chronic pain, rehabilitation from injury, and even injury prevention, with very few side effects. Typically, we see positive results within two to four treatment sessions, and that can vary depending on the cause and duration of the symptoms. One of my former patients recently told me,“My muscles were sore for two days, then I never felt my shoulder pain again."

As always, we’re here to help and welcome your questions!

For more information, check out this video featuring Dry Needling and Kinetacore in Terry Bradshaw's "The edge."