Through the years, many of us have developed poor habits in regard to posture and body mechanics with resultant abnormal movement patterns. Others have developed abnormal movement patterns from injury, disease, or surgery. From these aberrant patterns, muscles tighten up and movement becomes painful. The muscle even becomes tender to the touch. These tight bands of muscle tissue are called trigger points.
Janet Travell, MD and a colleague, David Simons, MD described a trigger point as "a hyperirritable spot in the skeletal muscle that is associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule in a taut band. The spot is tender when pressed and can give rise to characteristic referred pain, motor dysfunction, and autonomic phenomena." The taut band of muscle is best characterized as a palpable, ropy structure. The hyperirritability can be caused by spontaneous electrical activity at the motor end plate at the synaptic junction and/or from compression on a nerve from tight muscles.
Dry needling (intramuscular manual therapy) is a method used to release trigger points in the muscle using a thin filament needle. It is called "dry" because there is no injectable solution within the needle. If it is inserted into healthy tissue, very little if any sensation is felt. If it is inserted into unhealthy tissue, a deep ache or a cramping feeling may be felt for up to two days.
Dry needling corrects the abnormal biochemical markers of the hyperirritable band of tissue, releases shortened tissue, initiates and promotes the healing cascade, and ultimately provides pain relief. Some people feel the relief immediately and demonstrate improved function such as reaching higher or improved upright gait with improved stride length. For others, it takes more time. The primary goal of dry needling is to desensitize supersensitive structures and restore motion and function.
Dry needling is a relatively new treatment option and differs from acupuncture in many ways. Dry needling is used to treat muscle trigger points and dysfunction based on western medicine. Acupuncture is holistic and based on eastern medicine and thought.
At EmergeOrtho: Blue Ridge Region Physical Therapy, we have therapists who are certified in intramuscular dry needling.