On Pins and Needles

“I want to try dry needling on you. I’ve had a lot of success with it on my patients with hip injuries,” my physical therapist said recently.

“OK,” I said. “I don’t know what it is, but let’s do it!”

That’s basically been my attitude as I rehab my gimpy old-lady hip. I’LL TRY ANYTHING. Physical therapy, massages, cortisone shots (just had injection No. 2!), no leg crossing, sleeping with a pillow between my knees. Heck, at this point, if my orthopedist told me to stand on my head, I’d  only ask, “for how long?”

dry_needling-300x199Dry needling is similar to acupuncture (which I also have never done). The idea is to stick tiny needles into trigger points to create muscle twitches and, ultimately, release the knotted muscles to relieve local and referred pain. Because if this bursitis injury has taught me anything, it’s that all this shiz is connected.

My first dry needling session came at the end of a standard PT routine of massage, exercises and stretching. My physical therapist, Mike, who is certified to perform dry needling, said he would concentrate on three trigger points around my left hip: quadriceps, gluteus medius and IT band.

First, he massaged around each of those trigger points to find the most tender, painful, knotted-up point of the muscle. Once located, he took a 30 mm long acupuncture needle — 50 mm for my gluteus medius, because, well, more butt fat to get through — and inserted it into the muscle. It felt like getting a shot, a little pinch, but nothing major. He then needled the spot repeatedly to create muscle twitches. It was like getting a bunch of tiny charlie horses — or, in the case of my quad, one giant charlie horse that caused my whole body to convulse — that would subside. He spent a couple minutes needling each of the three trigger points until, eventually, it felt dull and numb. The most consistently intense pain came when he was needling my gluteus med. I was forced to employ some yoga breathing, but even that subsided.

When he was done needling each spot, he again massaged over the trigger point with his hands. But now, the tender, painful, knotted-up muscles weren’t so tender, painful or knotted-up.

The whole dry needling session only took about 10 minutes.

I was sore afterward; it felt similar to the pain following an intense massage or tough weightlifting workout. Some people bruise, but I didn’t. And my hip felt better. Was that because the hip pain paled in comparison to my new soreness, or was it because it actually worked? Tough to say.

"Stick 'em with the pointy end."

“Stick ’em with the pointy end.”

But I liked it, and I did it again. The second time, he picked two trigger points, and the results were even more significant (re: painful). One particular muscle twitch caused me to start sweating profusely, the kind of involuntary, all-over body sweat that comes in a tense situation, like turbulence on an airplane or an awkward encounter with an ex.

Still, although it’s painful, it’s a good pain, and it’s over relatively quickly. I also find the science behind it fascinating (now I want to give acupuncture a try, too).

So I’ll keep it up and have faith that dry needling, coupled with regular-ol’ physical therapy and more time off from running, will do the trick.

Fingers, toes, but not legs, crossed. — Mags



5 thoughts on “On Pins and Needles

  1. Pingback: Bad Angel Rules for Running | Long Story Short

  2. Pingback: Bad Angel Rules for Running | Hip Check

  3. I have the same diagnosis. My hip does not hurt while I’m running which is weird I think. I have been treating it with nsaids but as soon as I miss a dose the discomfort returns. I think a shot is my next option. But I’m curious as to how the needles when relieving tension in your muscles have an effect on bursitis.


  4. So what is your exact diagnosis? I’m having issues with my hip too.


    • Bursitis in my left hip, brought on during the Chicago Marathon. Been dealing with it (and blogging about it!) for three-plus months now. Like I said, PT, cortisone shots, rest, I’m trying everything.


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