Eagle County’s needle know how
VAIL CO, Colorado
EDWARDS – Getting poked with pins and needles might not be the first thing you think of when you think of pain relief, but an alternative and relatively new treatment offered by some physical therapists and doctors does exactly that.
The method, called trigger point dry needle therapy, involves inserting multiple thin needles into the affected area, aiming for “trigger points.” The goal is to get these trigger points to twitch or spasm, thus releasing the tension in the area, said Scott Wacker, a physical therapist who practices the treatment at Vail Sports Medicine Physical Therapy.
“Basically when the twitch happens, it resets the muscle,” he said. “It resets the way electricity runs through the muscle and increases blood flow.”
The technique isn’t incredibly common in the United States, and Colorado is one of the few states that allows physicians and therapists to perform it.
Sound a lot like acupuncture? Not quite. Wacker said that while the needles are the same in both treatments, acupuncture treats the body’s energy and is based on traditional Chinese medicine. Trigger point therapy targets “tight, spastic or weak” muscles and is based on western science, he said.
Some, such as Avon resident Matthew Haire, have found dry needle therapy to work where many other more traditional methods did not. After breaking his neck three years ago, he experienced chronic and sometimes debilitating upper neck pain. It was as if his muscles were constantly tightening and gripping up to protect the injured area and wouldn’t loosen, he said.
A physical therapist suggested he try dry needle therapy, and said he saw significant results after six sessions.
“It’s like an internal massage,” Haire said of the experience. “The muscles grip on the needle and then let go. Afterward it almost feels like you’ve worked out, and you feel a little bruised up. But after the first time, I could tell that it was working.”
The treatment isn’t only useful for back pain. Wacker said it can help many musculoskeletal problems, including neck, back and shoulder pain, arm pain (tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, golfer’s elbow), headaches including migraines and tension headaches, jaw pain and leg pain (sciatica, hamstring strains, calf tightness/spasms, plantar fasciitis).
However, he warns that the treatment isn’t a cure-all.
“It’s important that this is not the sole management (of pain) in and of itself,” he said. “It needs to be integrated with other treatments as one component of care. This teaches the body to release the muscle, but you need to teach the body to reuse it as well.”