LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - We've all heard of acupuncture, using tiny needles to alleviate pain and other problems.
But there is something similar to that called dry needling. Gary Kearns, ScD, is an Assistant Professor in the TTUHSC School of Health Professions. He says dry needles target trigger points, tender spots in muscles that are sparking pain. He says, “We only use it to relax the muscle and relieve the pain, whereas in acupuncture, they treat you like a physician would. Not only do they treat for pain relief but also for medical conditions like high blood pressure, asthma, things you would see a physician for."
He says like acupuncture, there may be one or many needles used, depending on the patient. But these are not like the needle we get with a flu shot. Dry means hollow. There’s nothing in it. He says, “They’re smaller. So the insertion of the needle is less painful. Once the needle is in the muscle, we do manipulate the needle. You go in and out or a little bit of a twist just to relax the muscle.”
So how often is it effective? Sometimes, he says dry needling can bring immediate relief. But he adds, “I call those home runs. You don’t see home runs very often. Generally within 2 to 3 sessions, you start to see a decrease in pain. For the right patient, dry needling is wonderful but for the patient that’s inappropriate, it may temporarily get worse. It could potentially have some adverse effects like hit a nerve, hitting vessels, bruising things of that nature.”
Dr. Kearns admits he was skeptical at first but now, he realizes there is just too much research to support it as a viable option in treating pain. However, he offers this important advice. “When I first started doing it, there were not many others, but now it is becoming so common place. Just make sure (you go to) people on staff who are certified and trained. The biggest thing most people need to realize is that this is not just a quick easy treatment. There is a lot of screening that physical therapists need to do to make sure - not only is the patient appropriate but the procedure goes off safe.”
He says it is important to consider that a patient who has a fear of needles would not be a good candidate for this.
And there are other reasons why some people may not benefit from this. Dr. Kearns adds the risk is not large in dry needling, but it is invasive so there is always the concern about possible infection.
Overall, there are many people who suffer from pain who may not even realize that they would be a good candidate for dry needling.
If you’d like to learn more and see a little bit of this technique, watch the full interview with Dr. Gary Kearns, ScD at the TTUHSC. School of Health Professionals.