5 questions and answers about dry needling for runners
By Henry Howard
Since my mid-March race, my training has been limited due to a stubborn case of plantar fasciitis.
I’ve taken time off from running (twice), performed countless stretching routines, and worked with a physical therapist who has significantly reduced the pain and swelling. The pain itself is not debilitating but has lingered for far too long.
In the past week, the PT has introduced a new method of treatment into the battle against my stubbornly tight calf muscle, the root of the problem.
In short, the increasingly popular treatment involves a certified practitioner inserting small needles into the trigger points of the muscle. The idea is to get the tight muscle to release, bringing relief to the patient.
It’s that simple: no medication, nothing injected into the body.
For me, the insertion of the needle did not hurt. But — omigosh — when the PT pistons the needle and it hits the trigger point, I definitely felt it. She did about five needles in both sessions so far, usually the baseline minimum for a treatment.
After the first session, I noticed some gradual improvement. And the second session, which also included some ultra sound work on the edge of my foot, brought even more relief.
The information here should not be considered medical advice. These are just some ideas, based on my research and own individual experience. Consult your doctor, physical therapist or other medical practitioner to decide the best course of action for you.
Here are some questions and answers about dry needling:
How does dry needling work?
The needles not only release the tight muscles but they force the body to create new muscle fibers. The treatment also releases lactic acid stored in muscles, which helps produce blood flow that speeds recovery. It’s also recommended to use dynamic stretching and heat to stimulate even more blood to the area.
What side effects does dry needling have?
Like other physical therapists, my PT had to undergo specialized training to do dry needling. In fact, she needs to go through even more training to do dry needling in other parts of the body.
While dry needling is safe, there are potential risks. Among them, pain may flare up afterward. Following my first session, I did experience a tight calf (felt similar to a Charley Horse) when I woke up the following morning, But it soon recovered.
Other side effects include:
Bruising or bleeding in rare cases.
Feeling fatigued or lethargic afterward.
Fainting, rare but occurs in people with low blood pressure or who are dehydrated.
What’s the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?
The goals of both practices are to reduce pain and promote healing. While dry needling focuses on the trigger points and aims to create a response to promote healing, acupuncture is focused on placing needles along meridians in the body to re-balance energy movement.
How soon after a session can I work out?
This depends on the severity of the injury, the recovery time from the dry needling and the type of workout. For me, I had no problem doing a bike ride the day following dry needling. But in order to make sure that the muscles were recovered properly, we scheduled appointments that did not occur just prior to running days.
If you undergo dry needling, consult your PT, coach and/or doctor on an exercise program that would suit you best.
What should I do after treatment?
As mentioned, heat is helpful, as is ice. Heat can reduce pain by stimulating blood flow. Using ice will restrict blood flow but will help reduce inflammation. So it’s an individual call as to which one to use, or to try them both out.
Using Kinesio tape over the spot of injection is also a good idea. It helps heal the injured area, of course, but also distracts your brain from perceiving some of the pain because it focuses on the feeling of the tape instead. A PT can place the tape on your or you can do it yourself. My recommendation would be KT Tape but there are many options available.
Let the muscles recover. If you received treatment on your lower leg, like I did, it would be wise to do an upper-body workout or easy bike while the muscles heal instead of a long run.