What is Trigger Point Dry Needling and Can It Help Me?

By Janelle Ciolek, PT, DPT, OCS

Trigger Point Dry Needling (TDN) is a treatment technique utilized by specially trained Physical Therapists to help treat neurogenic and musculoskeletal pain of either chronic or acute nature.  Many people with pain conditions are found to have active Trigger Points (TPs) in muscles, which exacerbate their pain.  Trigger points are taut, banded, irritable spots within skeletal muscle that cause pain, especially when they are compressed.  In scientific studies, trigger points have been found to demonstrate irregular electrical activity and shortened muscle structure, along with having pain causing chemicals within the muscle tissue.  These trigger points will often cause pain referral to other adjacent areas.  For example, a trigger point on the back of the shoulder blade, when compressed, may reproduce pain in the front of the shoulder or down the arm.

During treatment with dry needling, the physical therapist inserts a flexible, thin filament needle directly into the painful trigger point. The patient can feel a variety of sensations, most notably a deep aching or cramping sensation, and often will experience a localized muscle “twitch” sensation.  These sensory experiences help guide the treatment and let the therapist know they are treating a problematic area.  Dry needling, through scientific research, has been shown to promote healing in the affected painful areas.  It does this by releasing muscle tension, quieting electrical activity in the trigger points, and decreasing the chemical factors in the trigger points that cause pain.

Trigger point dry needling, in the hands of the trained and capable physical therapist, can be used to treat almost any musculoskeletal condition, including back pain, whiplash, frozen shoulder, elbow tendonitis, and plantar fasciitis, amongst many others.  It can even be used post-surgically to treat hypertrophic or adhered scar tissue.  Dry needling is used as valuable part of the whole physical therapy “package” which can include therapeutic exercises, joint mobilization or manipulation, patient education, and modalities.  Every patient has a unique program developed specifically for them, based on their symptoms and needs.

The American Physical Therapy Association as well as the Kentucky Physical Therapy Association support the use of trigger point dry needling in the hands of trained and licensed physical therapist.  For more information, please visit www.kort.com.

Image from: www.dryneedlingcourse.com

Janelle Ciolek PT, DPT, OCS, is the Clinic Director and has been part of our KORT team since 2005. Janelle is a 2004 graduate of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Bellarmine University, a Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist (OCS), a certified  IASTM therapist, practitioner of Functional Dry Needling (FDN) and is a Clinical Instructor for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Janelle also serves as adjunct faculty in the Bellarmine University Physical Therapy Department. Janelle loves the fast-pace and challenges of outpatient orthopedic physical therapy and has substantial experience in this area. Her clinical interests include manual therapy, sports injuries, and knee and shoulder reconstruction.


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