Every runner might find themselves one time or another facing an injury. If so, you’re in good hands with a physical therapist who has many interventions at their disposal to treat them. One of the more recent additions to the PT’s ‘toolbox’ is dry needling therapy. During my marathon training last year, I found myself becoming a patient. This month, I share my personal experience with the results of this modality.
It was twelve weeks into an eighteen-week training cycle that I developed a mild to moderate case of Achilles tendonitis, along with the mild beginnings of plantar fasciitis in my right foot and heel. As a PTA, I’m extremely lucky that I can start treating my ailments immediately, without waiting to see a doctor. As is standard practice for injuries, I began to do the proper stretching, icing, deep-friction-massage, and ultrasound. Though the pain subsided a little, with these interventions, I knew I needed a physical therapist for additional help.
BRING ON THE NEEDLES!
Dry needling is performed with a thin filament needle (the same type used in acupuncture) and is inserted in the tissue (muscle), or area that is painful or injured. The needle causes a myofascial release in the restricted tissue. As a result, it promotes healing of the injured muscle or tendon. The needles can then be manipulated (moved in and out of the area) or left in for several minutes, ‘statically’ or not being moved. Usually, the needles are left in, at most, for about ten minutes.
In my case, the needles—about 8—were inserted into the most inflamed area and also the areas around it. At first, it was slightly painful, in the very inflamed area, but then subsided. In the other areas, I barely knew they were there. After the needles were removed, I felt an immediate relief of the aching feeling, especially in the heel. The only other thing I experienced was a sympathetic nervous system response of mild sweating: basically, our sympathetic nervous system is the body’s involuntary response to stress—the fight or flight response—which is very common with dry needling. It stopped immediately after the needling was completed.
As a patient, you might ask prior to trying it, ‘Will it work?’ The answer is yes, usually. In my case, I went for a five-mile run that afternoon following the needling and felt zero pain during, and only a mild amount of soreness afterwards, which I was able to address with ice. Remember, I started out in a lot of pain making it difficult to run! As my miles increased on my marathon plan, I didn’t need to back off with my training. I did follow up with three additional dry needling sessions after the first session—and if I felt another flare up, I scheduled more needling therapy. Remember, I also kept up with stretching, cross-training, and ice when needed.
Now, in comparison to my marathon training a year prior, dry needling made an incredible difference. In the past, when my Achilles tendonitis flared up, and I didn’t have dry needling done, it took longer to recover. Every patient will react differently to the treatment; for me, I personally found it to be a new tool that has made a difference in my running recovery and staying injury free.
Whether you’re a runner or not, the next time you have a mild pain or flare up of your own, consider coming in to see one of our PTs for the dry needling therapy and determine for yourself if it’s a benefit for you.