Monday, December 3, 2018

My Experience with Dry Needling

It wasn't until I came across this article the other day that I realized I don't think I ever gave a full report on my experience with dry needling two years ago.  Whoops!  Bad blogger!  (I chuckle even calling myself that.)  As always with any medical treatment I've done that I'm sharing with you, I am not a medical doctor, and you should always consult your physician before considering treatments.  My experience will not likely be yours, and it should not be construed as medical advice.

Anyhoo, to recap, after several ongoing leg issues where I was being treated by a chiropractor, I was diagnosed with compartment syndrome in my calves.  This was after an airline starting with A canceled our flight from Hawaii and shoved me into coach class for an 8-hour plane ride I paid first class for.  We didn't upgrade, we PAID for it because I already had leg issues to begin with.  I was unable to move, my knees were jammed into the seat ahead of me because they were reclined, the flight was full so there was nowhere to move and I just sat there silently crying for 80% of the flight because any movement made my legs feel like they were going to go into full blown cramps that would include screaming.  I hear they discourage that on planes these days.  After about two months of chiropractic care was bringing me little relief, I began to lose hope and when he mentioned compartment syndrome, well, it's not pretty.  When I mentioned it here, someone suggested dry needling as it helped them and given I was desperate, stick me like the voodoo doll I am.

First, a little background from the research I did if you're not up for reading the article above.  (But you should if you're considering this treatment.)  While many people try to lump this together with acupuncture, it's not, and acupuncturists will be the first to vehemently tell you that.  Dry needling, from my understanding, was kind of found by accident when a needle was put in a muscle knot, and it caused it to twitch and eventually release within minutes.  It's considered an unproven treatment technique because it's so new and they're not quite sure the science behind it, only that it does work for most people who do it.  It is crucial that you are only treated by a place that specifically has trained therapists, or you run a risk for potential complications.  I had to sign a waiver saying I wouldn't sue them and I understood I could suffer X effects including the potential for a punctured lung.  Since they were working on my legs, I wasn't worried about that one, but I can tell you I saw plenty of thin athletes being worked on in areas where that could've been a possibility.   The needles are typically the size of acupuncture needles as far as thickness when you're getting surface areas done which is what I thought I was always going to get.  Those babies go up to 3" long, and I was "lucky" enough to need those due to my chunker calves because of all of the trapped inflammation.

(Wow, didn't realize just how bad the inflammation was until seeing these again!)

I began my treatment at the end of October and was finished by mid-December.  I had dry needling done coupled with Graston scar tissue work as well as formal physical therapy twice a week.  I still do three exercises three times a week to keep up my booty muscles for stabilization.  While physical therapy was considered covered by my insurance, they were, of course, out of network so between my two visits there per week and one chiro visit per week, that airline snafu cost me $2000 out of pocket.  But when it's the difference between that and electric pain that literally takes your breath away sometimes, I will take the cost and discomfort.

How did it feel?

Well, most of the time I didn't feel her put the needles in.  If she hit a good knot, it will contract and twitch which is the point and eventually release after 10-20 minutes.  It does feel weird when that happens because your instinct is to tense up but you can't.  You have to let the needles do their job to loosen and release the muscles.  Most people will never need 3" needles, mine, as usual, was the exception to the rule.  But because of my size, and the amount of swelling involved they needed to be able to get past that stuff to get into the muscle.  I won't lie, some deep breaths were required on those because not only are they longer but also thicker, so it's like a toothpick width going in there.  I think I heard one of you faint.  Put your head between your legs, you'll be okay.  I was good for most of the treatment then once she hit a nerve, literally.  How I didn't mule kick her to the face is beyond me.  That was an electric shock that no one can prepare you for.  A few more sessions were fine then she hit one again, and I firmly said, "yeah, let's not do that if we can help it."  But I did notice those tended to happen when she was gabbing with another therapist, and since everyone is in one big room, distractions were a-plenty.  The final session, she got me 3x in the nerve zap, and I yelled at her.  The therapist next to her said, "ooh, you're hitting good today, you should play the lottery."  I looked at him with the anger of 1000 honey badgers and said: "let her stab YOU in the nerves 3x and tell me how you like it, junior!"  (This idiot would later be the Mr's therapist whom he could not stand.)  The next physical therapy session I came in for, I said "yeah, there won't be any more dry needling going on.  I feel like I've gotten all I needed to get out of that" and I had.  I no longer had compartment syndrome thanks to it, so it served its purpose, I just needed to strengthen my glutes and correct my gait.  It's great for breaking up scar tissue too and I've considered it with my arm but recommended time is 2x week for 4 weeks, and since they're on the other side of town, I don't have it in me to do the drive in the winter.

How many needles do they use?

It varies.  I think I averaged 10-12 needles per leg.

(The human voodoo doll)

When I was done on my stomach, I'd flip over, and they'd put about 6-10 on the front of my legs.  Maybe 2-3 around the ankle and then anywhere else that was tight or knotted so that I wouldn't be released in the back but not tight in the front which can create imbalances.  Obviously, this varies from person to person based on what they're being treated for.  I also frequently saw people getting electric stimulation attached to some of the needles which freaked me the hell out!  The people didn't seem to mind though, but yeah, glad that wasn't me.

Any after effects?

I will tell you this, if you should have to have the big daddy needles used, you will have holes in your calves.  I don't mean any you can see, but you can feel them.  It's like when you get your ear pierced and let the hole close up.  While you can't put an earring through it, you can still feel the indentation if you press on the area.  That feels weird, but nothing I can't handle or that's visible with the naked eye.

Would I do it again?

If necessary, yes.  I was so happy with the results, I recommended the Mr do it for his shoulder impingement and between that and physical therapy, he got good results as well.  Like anything, you have to keep up all of the physical therapy for the maximum benefit which neither of us does as well as we should.  I was going to say that the distance was a significant consideration but I just looked and found someplace the next town over now offers it and charges $25 per session.  I would bring up the nerve issues and that I would like someone to be paying attention when they do it since I have previous experience with it.  I've also considered it for TMJ since my jaw is in a permanent state of clench 80% of the time.

If you have any kind of pain that regular stretching, massage, and exercises are not helping, you may want to look into dry needling as an option.  It's not for everyone, but it can be a solution for stubborn injury, muscle pain in general and scar tissue.

Have you done dry needling?  Would you put your fear of needles aside to get relief from pain?

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  1. Dry needling worked wonders for my shoulder. I think it basically accelerated my healing by months so it was worth doing, for me. But if my needles had been as long as some of the ones you had to have in your leg - no thanks! LOL

  2. I was the one you heard faint. I am not a fan of needles. Not even a little bit.

    If I were in the kind of constant pain you were in though, and I had tried everything else and this was the only/best option left I would overcome my perfectly natural fear of needles and do it.

  3. You already know that I have tried it and loved it. It had been the only thing that worked for my shoulder/neck. That being said, I'm not too great with maintaining my physio exercises and I'm starting to feel like I need a tune-up. But I will have to wait until the new year, when my heath insurance benefits top back up for things like physio. I maxed them out this year.

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