Many people suffer from puzzling chronic or recurrent pain in their muscles that isn’t related to an obvious overuse issue or an apparent injury. Trigger points seem to be a common cause of such pain, and one effective treatment for trigger points is dry needling.
What is a Trigger Point?
A trigger point is felt as a sort of knot or lump in a muscle that is very sore upon physical manipulation. Trigger points can be found in any muscle, but are most common in the neck, shoulders, hips, and the jaw. They are most common in older sedentary individuals, but can be found in anyone of any age and any activity level. They can be caused by some kind of direct trauma to the area, by a sudden burst of unusual intense activity, or by prolonged immobilization of the area due to wearing a cast or sling. In many cases, the cause is unclear. One of the more confusing aspects of trigger points is they cause referred pain, namely pain felt in a muscle located at a distance from the trigger point, such as a trigger point in the neck causing pain in the arm. Treating the referred pain is ineffective; the trigger point needs to be treated.
What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling involves inserting a very thin, sterile acupuncture needle deep into the trigger point. Although superficially similar to acupuncture, in acupuncture the needles are inserted into specific points around the body demonstrated to affect various nerve pathways, while in dry needling the needle is inserted into trigger points to induce them to relax.
The needle is so thin that its insertion does not cause any pain, but it induces the trigger point to repeatedly contract and relax, which feels like muscle twitching and can cause some aching sensations. These sensations indicate the treatment has hit the cause of the problem and the treatment is working. Usually a single treatment is not sufficient and a course of two treatments a week for six weeks is prescribed.
Is it a Permanent Solution?
Once the trigger point has relaxed, the discomfort should go away, but most physical therapists find trigger points frequently recur unless the sufferer also undergoes a course of physical therapy to address any postural issues or muscle weaknesses that caused the trigger point to recur in the first place.