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What You Need To Know About Dry Needling (From A Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist)

While it may sound a bit scary, dry needling is actually a regularly practiced technique that physical therapists use to treat pain and dysfunction in the tissues and muscles of the body. In fact, several celebrity athletes regularly use dry needling. “I’m big on dry needling. It’s amazing for the body” stated NFL player Travis Kelce, when asked about his daily routine. If you have been struggling with pelvic pain or tension that other treatments have not fully addressed then dry needling might be a good option for you. 

So, What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling involves inserting fine needles into targeted “trigger points” or areas of the body. Once inserted, the needles can trigger responses in the muscles, blood vessels, and nerve pathways that can lead to relief of pain and tension. The best part is that the relief provided by a series of dry needling sessions can be long-lasting or even permanent!

More specifically, during the dry needling treatment the inserted thin needles are placed into trigger points that your physical therapist targets for your specific symptoms. Trigger points are tight bands or knots in muscle tissue or fascia that are exquisitely tender when pressed on. These points are often a source of pain in the area of the trigger point and they can, and often, refer pain and symptoms to other areas of the body. These trigger points can develop for many reasons including injury, overuse, or movements that can cause strain and tension. Because trigger points can cause pain and restricted movement, physical therapists can target them with dry needling to help increase blood flow and “release” them, leading to decreased pain in the areas.

Understanding Pelvic Floor Issues – And How Dry Needling Could Help

The pelvic floor is essentially a network of muscles and tissues that form a supportive hammock for your internal organs and pelvis. Because there are so many muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments (not to mention all the blood vessels and nerves) in the pelvic floor, many different issues with them can arise. 

As anyone who has experienced it can attest, pelvic pain can be debilitating and affect many aspects of a person’s life. Thankfully several treatment options do exist that can help. One of the treatments considered effective for pelvic pain is dry needling. Because a needle can reach deeper and in a more targeted way than many other treatments can, it can be remarkably effective. Dry needling can help in people with all kinds of pelvic pain and pelvic muscle tension, including postpartum pelvic floor issues, pelvic floor spasms, scar tissues or adhesions, referred pain from other areas, and even in people with bladder pain syndromes like interstitial cystitis

The Procedure: What to Expect at Your Dry Needling Session

If you’re someone who likes to be mentally prepared before embarking on a new experience, let us describe in detail what happens at a dry needling session. In a typical dry needling session, your pelvic physical therapist will first assess you to find trigger points to target. You’ll be positioned comfortably and should do your best to relax as much as possible. The physical therapist will then insert thin, sterile needles into the targeted points. When the needles are inserted, you might feel tingling, twitching, or pressure. Once needles are inserted, depending on the therapist and your specific issues, they might apply stimulation to the needles using electricity or manual stimulation (such as twisting the needle), some therapists may leave the needles in the area for 10-30 mins, while some may only use multiple needles but only one at a time to target the trigger point. 

Combining Dry Needling with Other Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Techniques

Like most challenges in life, a holistic and multi-faceted approach is always best. That being said, dry needling is most effective when it is combined with ongoing pelvic floor physical therapy treatments including exercises, stretches, and manual therapies that address all of the underlying issues involved in your particular case. There is great synergy between all of these treatments and this can lead to better and longer lasting outcomes. 

Debunking Common Myths About Dry Needling

Myth #1 Does Dry Needling Really Hurt?

While each person is different, most people describe dry needling as a feeling of pressure or cramping rather than pain. Some people even describe a satisfying feeling of release as the muscle targeted relaxes after being triggered by a needle. Of course, if you are in a lot of pain in the area, the needles may cause some discomfort as they target the areas you are already having pain in.

Myth #2 Is Dry Needling Safe?

When performed by a licensed and trained physical therapist, dry needling is considered very safe. Needles are inserted into muscle trigger points, and do not penetrate into any organs or orifices. 

Myth #3 Is Dry Needling Any Different from Acupuncture?

While acupuncture also involves insertion of fine needles, it is very different from dry needling in many important ways. First, acupuncture is rooted in concepts of energy flow and balance rather than the anatomy, soft tissue and muscle physiology focus of dry needling. Also, while acupuncture uses insertion points that fall along traditional Chinese energy meridians, dry needling uses insertion points into specific trigger points to directly impact the area it is inserted in. 

Myth #4 Can Anyone Perform Dry Needling?

Only licensed physical therapists with specialized training should perform dry needling. Proper training and education ensures that your treatment will be safe, accurate, and effective. 

Summing It Up On Dry Needling

Dry needling is becoming one of the most sought after treatments for many physical and pain issues. It is becoming not only more mainstream, but also touted by many healthcare professionals and athletes as an effective way to treat countless soft tissue and muscle problems. Because many people are seeking non-pharmaceutical ways to treat pain, dry needling has been growing in popularity in the pain management world as well. Thankfully, as dry needling gains mainstream acceptance as an effective and important treatment modality, more people will have access to receiving this treatment for their pelvic floor issues as well. 

If you are looking for help with pelvic floor issues and would like to try dry needling,  ITR Physical Therapy today at 301-770-7060 or schedule an appointment online with one of our experienced McLean pelvic floor physical therapy team members!  

References:

  1. Alappattu M, Hilton S, Bishop M. An International Survey of Commonly Used Interventions for Management of Pelvic Pain. Journal of Womenʼs Health Physical Therapy. 2019;43(2):82-88. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/jwh.0000000000000131
  2. Romero-Morales C, Bravo-Aguilar M, Abuín-Porras V, et al. Current advances and novel research on minimal invasive techniques for musculoskeletal disorders. Disease-a-Month. 2021;67(10):101210. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.disamonth.2021.101210
  3. Sheikhhoseini R, Arab AM. Dry Needling in myofascial tracks in Non-Relaxing Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: A case study. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2018;22(2):337-340. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.09.016

‌Moldwin RM, Fariello JY. Myofascial Trigger Points of the Pelvic Floor: Associations with Urological Pain Syndromes and Treatment Strategies Including Injection Therapy. Current Urology Reports. 2013;14(5):409-417. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11934-013-0360-7