Nagging aches, pains and injuries can limit your daily functions and if you are an athlete, can limit your sports performance. Some athletes think that taking anti-inflammatories, wearing a brace, or icing are the only answers for all their aches and pains and that they have to live with the pain or give up their sport. For those of you who don't play sports but are active, are running after the kids, or sit at a desk all day also struggle with these daily aches and pains as well. There is so much more that can be done to treat nagging aches, pains, and injuries rather than just popping some pills.
Physical Therapists (PTs) manage the common injuries, aches and pains and dysfunction that plague active people, athletes, and weekend warriors. PTs provide advanced evaluation and treatment techniques for new or recurring injuries and pain, correct muscle imbalances and help prevent future injuries for athletes. Treating athletes requires specific knowledge about the unique movements, equipment and demands of their sport, so working with a PT who has sport specific experience is ideal. Continuing to play sports with pain may lead to further tissue damage, increased pain, and injuries. So, it is important to seek treatment as soon as you feel pain.
Dry Needling is a technique utilized by physical therapists to treat musculoskletal pain and injuries. Muscles can develop knots that are referred to as myofascial triggerpoints, which are ropelike, hard and painful to touch. Triggerpoints cause muscles to tighten and stiffen, limit mobility and function and cause pain locally and in surrounding areas. Dry needling is used to deactivate painful myofascial triggerpoints, ultimately “resetting” the system to restore normal movement. A solid, thin filament needle is inserted into the painful, knotted muscle, which elicits a local muscle contraction that allows the muscle to relax, decreases pain and resets the muscle to its normal strength and function. The microtrauma from the needle stimulates a healing response, increasing blood flow in the painful tissue. It is called dry needling because it does not involve injecting a “wet” substance like saline or cortisone. If your back and hips are too tight, this will limit your trunk rotation. Dry needling to the hips and low back muscles will allow you to rotate better into your forehand or backhand and enhance your racket and ball speed.
Dry Needling is a highly specialized skill and requires additional training. It can be performed on almost anyone from adolescent to senior players. The needles are very thin, so there is no visible puncture site or bleeding. Dry needling allows PTs to reach the deeper muscles that are often the cause of muscle tightness and injury. It is different from acupuncture, focusing on desensitizing local painful muscles and improving joint range of motion and is based on Western medicine. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine intervention that aims to influence the body’s flow of energy, referred to as “qi,” through various “meridians” and “acupuncture points.” Some people have a phobia of needles, but this should not deter you from trying dry needling, as the outcome is immediate and long lasting. You may or may not feel the insertion of the needle. The specific needle manipulation is intended to produce a local twitch response that can elicit a very brief uncomfortable response that some patients describe as a deep ache or cramping sensation. Dry needling is used in conjunction with other physical therapy treatments such as stretching, strengthening exercises and massage.
Sports PTs utilize dry needling in order to treat sport-related injuries among our high school, collegiate, recreational, and professional athletes players. If you suffer with joint or muscle pain and nagging injuries that limit your sport performance or every day life, dry needling may be a highly effective tool to reduce pain and restore function.
Dr. Baudo Marchetti is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board-Certified Sports Clinical Specialist at One on One Physical Therapy, a multidisciplinary private practice in Atlanta. For nearly five years she was a full-time sports physical therapist for the WTA Tour and is a tennis medicine expert. She teaches a sports PT course and assists in teaching orthopedics within the Division of Physical Therapy at Emory University. Learn more by visiting www.onetherapy.com.