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Pain in the Neck? Think Dry Needling

Written by Chris Nawrocki, PT
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Chris NawrockiI have the daily experience of working in outpatient physical therapy care of evaluating and treating many spine patients.  Having over 22 years of clinical care and pursuing advanced credentialing as a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and a McKenzie Mechanical Diagnosis and Treatment I think I have a pretty strong background in helping patients deal with their spinal pains.  Throughout my day I evaluate then educate and explain why the pain is limiting their life.  Hopefully we get the correct treatment structure in place to make their pains go away and resume getting back to normal life.  I have always felt empathy for those patients wreathing in obvious pain and my goal was always to encourage them to work through the pain and realize there will be better days ahead.  And then….May of 2016 hit me with a pain in my neck.  Literally.

I had been doing a fair amount of yardwork and lifting some heavy pieces of landscaping stone as we redid our backyard.  Getting a little older I assumed the following days of stiffness really were normal, except this time it did not go away.  If fact my pain started spreading down my arm and getting very unbearable in my neck.  I immediately jumped into PT treatment mode as the pain increased and my sleep decreased.  I tried deep tissue work, McKenzie movements, cervical traction and 2 rounds of anti-inflammatories.  All provided temporary relief.  I then moved on to get an MRI which revealed “an impressive sized herniated disc” in my lower neck as my neck doctor stated.  My neck doctor also said “Chris I think surgery might be needed in 3 months or 3 years but you are a surgery candidate.”  I knew I had to continue to try to resolve the pain, so I resumed PT.  I also received an epidural neck injection which greatly relieved my arm pain but my daily neck pain persisted.  Movement, soft tissue work and exercise helped decrease my pains and sitting and sleep increased my pains.  Classic disc signs.  I was beginning to think surgery was in my future.  Over the next year the battle continued.

Dry needling photoIn the spring of 2017, a few of our experienced PT’s went to a continuing education seminar to be trained in trigger point (TP) dry needling.  To be clear, it is not acupuncture.  This type of treatment uses small needles to stimulate the muscular and myofascial trigger points of dysfunctional tissue.  Along with using a small electric probe to stimulate the needle to help contract the deep TP’s, the dry needling releases the contracted muscles.  I was game for trying the intervention and even was the test subject when all our PT’s trained in understanding the treatment.  My first treatment focused on the deep, tight muscle pains I have developed from battling with my herniated disc issue from the past year.  The insertion of the needles into my neck muscles was fairly painless and I felt a slight bee sting sensation as the PT got deeper into where they felt the tight restrictions.  The whole treatment lasted about 5 minutes as several trigger point areas were treated.  Almost immediately I sat up and had more rotation to look over each shoulder and I had a sense of the deep tightness letting go.  I have now done the dry needling treatment 1 time a week for the last 4 weeks and have not taken any consistent anti-inflammatories.  I am sleeping better than I have in over a year and can do most workouts and yardwork without getting muscle pains. 

We are seeing more patients with chronic muscle problems try this newer treatment with much success.  Even if you try it for 2-3 sessions and do not have much change at least you know you tried a conservative approach to letting your body “heal thyself” without surgery.  So if you have a chronic pain in the neck (and it is not because of work or relationship issues), think dry needling.  You might be surprised at the results.

For more information about Trigger Point Dry Needling click here. 

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