All of us have experienced trigger points, or “knots” in our muscles at some point in our life, but few are aware what is actually happening in the muscle that causes it to hurt. Trigger points are thought to be the result of overuse of a muscle fiber. In healthy muscle tissue, we do not use 100% of the muscle fibers in any one given contraction. Our body rotates which muscle fibers are firing in order to give a rest period to each individual muscle fiber.
Occasionally, this does not occur properly, and the muscle fiber becomes overworked. This overuse can result from any activity level, such as heavy lifting, repetitive movements, or sustained postures. When a muscle fiber is in a sustained contraction, it puts pressure on the surrounding tissues. This includes our capillaries, which provide blood supply and oxygen to the muscle tissue to allow continued function. The larger blood vessels are unaffected, but smaller ones can be restricted. Without adequate blood flow to a contracting muscle, no nutrients are brought into the area, and waste product generated by muscle contractions are not flushed out and removed.
Properly diagnosing a trigger point and ruling out other causes of pain requires a skilled, hands- on examination of the painful area. They do not show up on any traditional imaging studies. The good news is that trigger points are very responsive to treatment. Manual therapy and Trigger Point Dry Needling have both been proven to reduce the presence of trigger points and relieve the symptoms. Studies have even shown an immediate return to normal pH levels in the tissue following dry needling treatment. Following the hands-on treatment program, a stretching and strengthening routine is vital to ensure a return to normal function of the tissue involved. Especially in chronic trigger point cases, the body quickly learns to compensate our movements due to pain, and these bad habits can lead to further problems or new trigger points in other muscles down the road.
Dry needling is very often used as a part of an overall treatment plan in physical therapy that will likely include some type of exercise, manual therapy, heat therapy, and education. Dry needling is used to increase range of motion that may be limited due to muscle tightness or scar tissue. Dry needling may also treat:
- Joint problems
- Disk problems
- Migraine and tension-type headaches
- Jaw and mouth problems (such as temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD)
- Repetitive motion disorders (like carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Spinal problems
- Pelvic pain
- Night cramps
- Phantom pain
- Post-herpetic neuralgia (pain left behind by shingles)
During dry needling, your physical therapist will insert a thin, sterile needle into the skin to shut down your muscular trigger points. The length of the needle will depend on the area of your body that is being dry needled. Patients feel little or no pain as the needle is inserted. The needles are typically used once per muscle and discarded. The entire treatment takes as little as 15 minutes. After, patients typically experience pain relief lasting from a few hours to several weeks.
Axes physical and occupational therapists will work with your doctor to make sure dry needling is right for your treatment plan. This is all very clinical language and we recognize that this can be intimidating to patients. We want to assure you that your Axes team is there for you every step of the way – to help, to guide, to comfort. You are in skilled hands.
To learn more about Trigger Point Dry Needling or to see if it’s right for you – contact an Axes in your area today. With now 14 Greater St. Louis area locations and an expert staff – we are here to help.