Knee pain can be debilitating and affect individuals of all ages and activity levels. Whether you’re an athlete recovering from injury, a fitness enthusiast dealing with general knee discomfort, or someone simply trying to manage the aches and pains of everyday life, finding effective solutions for knee pain is vital to live a full life. One such solution that has gained popularity in recent years is dry needling for knee pain. In this post, we will explore what dry needling is and how it can help relieve knee pain.
What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a therapeutic technique used by physical therapists and other healthcare professionals used to alleviate musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. Just as the name suggests, dry needling does not involve injecting any medication or liquid (wet) substance into the body.
Dry needling often is confused with acupuncture for good reason since they use similar needles, however the difference is that acupuncture is based on eastern medicine and aimed to stimulate energy pathways. Dry needling instead focuses on targeting specific trigger points or tight bands of muscle tissue (often referred to as trigger points) which can be a source of pain, limited range of motion and general muscle dysfunction. The technique involves the insertion of a thin, solid needle directly into these trigger points, aiming to release tension and promote pain relief. The primary goal is to relax and restore normal function to the affected muscle group.
The Science Behind Dry Needling:
- Trigger point reduction – Trigger points are hyperirritable spots within a muscle that are associated with the formation of taut muscle bands and the development of pain. By inserting a needle into these points, dry needling can disrupt the dysfunctional muscle fibers, causing them to relax, reducing pain and discomfort.
- Improved blood flow: The insertion of needles into the affected muscles can stimulate blood flow to the area. Improved circulation can help bring necessary nutrients and oxygen to the muscle tissues, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.
- Release of neurotransmitters: The act of needling is believed to stimulate the release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, which have pain-relieving effects. This may contribute to the relief of knee pain.
Dry Needling for Knee Pain
Knee pain can have a variety of causes, ranging from overuse injuries to ligament tears and arthritis. Dry needling is not a one-size fits all solution, but can be effective for certain types of knee pain.
Dry needling can help with:
- Meniscus tears
- Patella tendinitis
- Quad tendonitis
- Iliotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome)
- Patellofemoral pain
- Jumper’s knee
- Osteoarthritis pain
- Knee surgeries such as meniscus repairs and ACL reconstructions
All of these and many more can be helped via dry needling!
The way dry needling can help these issues is as follows:
Myofascial trigger points: Knee pain can often be linked to trigger points in the muscles surrounding the knee joint such as the quadriceps and hamstrings (the muscles in the front and back of the thigh). Dry needling can target these trigger points to alleviate pain and muscle tension.
Reducing muscle tightness: Overuse, muscle imbalances and poor biomechanics can lead to tight and painful muscles around the knee. Dry needling can help release this tension, allowing for improved flexibility and reduced pain.
Dry needling is an excellent adjunct technique to amplify other treatments or rehab measures to get you back to doing what you love to do. Ask your physical therapist if dry needling could benefit your specific knee issue.
How Long Do the Effects of Dry Needling Last?
Length of relief varies depending on the person, however with initial treatments, results typically last several days with each additional treatment session increasing the window of relief with each session.
What to Expect During a Dry Needling Session
If you’re considering dry needling for knee pain, it’s important to understand what a typical session entails:
- Evaluation: Our talented physical therapists will first evaluate your knee pain to determine if dry needling is a suitable treatment option for you. They will assess your range of motion, muscle tightness, and identify any trigger points that may be contributing to your knee pain.
- Needle insertion: Once the areas of concern are identified, your physical therapist will insert the dry needle into the painful tight muscle band. You may feel a moment of slight discomfort but is typically tolerated well by most individuals.
- Needle manipulation: After insertion, the practitioner may gently manipulate the needle to stimulate the muscle and trigger a therapeutic twitch response. This twitch response is confirmation of reduction of the trigger point tension and pain. Following the twitch response, we expect a sensation of deep pressure or soreness which is completely normal. If applicable, an electric current is applied to the needles further facilitating the therapeutic response of the dry needling technique.
- Needle removal: The needles are typically left in place for a short period of time usually lasting anywhere from 1 minute up to 5-10 minutes depending on the practitioner’s discretion and your response.
- Post needle care: After the session you will typically feel better. It’s not the majority of people, but it’s also not uncommon or worrisome to experience some minor post treatment soreness, but this typically subsides within a day and usually feels like a low level toothache. It is advisable to stay hydrated and remain generally active as light exercise can help stave off post needle soreness (yes it is safe to be active following dry needling).
While dry needling can be utilized by itself it is more commonly used as part of a bigger treatment plan. It’s important to note that dry needling is often used in conjunction with other physical therapy and rehab techniques. Much like the icing on the cake, dry needling is made even more effective with a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your specific condition. This is crucial for the fastest and best outcomes.
Is It Ok to walk, run, workout after getting dry needling?
Yes. As dry needling typically helps with pain and movement you may feel looser and like moving or exercising. This is actually crucial to regain your strength, flexibility and movement. The key is not to do too much, which could set you back. If there is any confusion on how much activity you are allowed to do after you get your dry needling just ask your PT.
Risks and considerations
Dry needling is generally considered safe when performed by trained and licensed physical therapists. The below risks are rare. However, there are some considerations and potential risks to keep in mind.
- Bruising: Some individuals may develop mild pea to quarter sized bruising at the needle insertion site.
- Infection and bleeding: Although very rare, there is a risk of infection. All of our clinicians are trained to perform dry needling while using clean needle techniques reducing infection risk.
- Individual variability: The effectiveness of dry needling can vary among individuals, and not everyone experiences immediate relief.
Knee pain can be a significant obstacle to an active and fulfilling life, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. Dry needling is a therapeutic technique that offers hope to those seeking relief from knee discomfort. By targeting myofascial trigger points and muscle tension, it has the potential to alleviate pain and improve overall knee function.
However, it’s important to remember that dry needling is just one tool in the toolbox of treatments for knee pain. A comprehensive approach that includes a proper diagnosis, physical therapy, exercise and other therapies may be necessary for the best results.