How many times have you stopped a run workout due to calf or hamstring tightness? You think one of the best things to do is to take a couple of days off to rest before resuming your workouts. The next time you run, you get a few miles in before your calf or hamstring tightens up again. You try foam rolling and taking a few more days off, but it just does not help. You try this for a few weeks and find yourself skipping more and more workouts because of the tightness and pain. If this has happened to you, dry needling may be a piece of the puzzle to getting you back to running, swimming, and biking. 

What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a common treatment technique in orthopedic manual physical therapy. Two dry needling approaches exist, the trigger point model and the neurologic model. From a pain science perspective, trigger points or tender points are constant sources of peripheral nociceptive input leading to peripheral and central sensitization. Dry needling cannot only reverse some aspects of central sensitization, it reduces local and referred pain, improves range of motion and muscle activation pattern, and alters the chemical environment of trigger points. So, what’s the bottom-line? Dry needling is a technique used by physical therapists to decrease pain, speed recovery, and minimize downtime. The technique helps to “reset” muscles that have been damaged during training, racing, overuse, or poor mechanics in daily activities. This reset is performed on the trigger points impairing the neuromuscular and musculoskeletal performance of our bodies. 

Does Dry Needling Work?

Yes, it does! Substantial clinical evidence supports the usage of dry needling. In 2010, The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, published a clinical narrative indicating that dry needling reduced pain and muscle tension, and facilitated a return to function by normalizing the nerve impulses transmitted to the irritated muscles.

In a study published in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy, a group of researchers analyzed the results of the best clinical studies that had been conducted on dry needling. Reviewing the results of the relevant studies, the researchers determined that dry needling can effectively provide pain relief. For those with chronic pain, the possibility of alleviating that pain without narcotics is a welcome option.

Would A PT Perform Dry Needling Before Or After My Competition?

A PT can actually perform it before or after your competition! It really depends on how well you tolerate the needling. Some patients are sore for up to a day after needling. Others notice that the needling has loosened them up quite a bit and like to have the needling done before a competition. 

Needling after competition can be a game changer! It can help with post activity recovery and help your tissues recover faster without the soreness typically felt

How Can Dry Needling Help Me?

When those tissues are released, it results in improved gait patterns, stronger muscle contractions, and more productive workouts.

5 common trigger point areas that endurance athletes experience issues with include:

  • Hip: glutes, piriformis, deep rotator muscles (hip bursitis, IT Band syndrome)
  • Lumbar (low back): QL (quadratus lumborum) and paraspinal muscles (sciatica)
  • Thigh: quads and hamstrings (IT Band syndrome, runner’s knee)
  • Calf/foot: gastroc, soleus, peroneals, posterior/anterior tibialis (plantar fasciitis, shin splints)
  • Neck/shoulders: traps, pectorals, lats (shoulder impingement, rotator cuff syndrome)

Addressing these points with dry needling, along with a formal assessment of your strength, range of motion, and mechanics can help you achieve or return to optimal pain free performance.