Exactly what is TDN? I’ll tell you, since my coach did not, but sent me like a sheep to the slaughter…ok, so that’s overly dramatic…but the pain I experienced using Trigger Point Dry Needling (TDN) at the hands of a physical therapist can not be overstated!
Athletes tend to be a bit nutty, especially in their quest to heal. As most of you know, I ran a marathon a few weeks ago and, in another two weeks I have a duathlon race planned. Unfortunately for me, my body has not been exactly cooperative, so my coach suggested I meet with her physical therapist just to assess the situation.
She failed to mention said therapist would be sticking needles directly into my muscle!
It started innocently enough, and the PT asked me a bunch of questions about how I was injured (old age), my injury history (just mental illness) and my racing plan for the future (further indication of brain damage).
Like any great physical therapist who is also an athlete, she assured me the race was totally do-able based on the info I gave her. She then proceeded to laugh hysterically at how weak my hips are, after a series of tests. Not cool.
She also cracked my back for me because “Your thoracic spine is like cement. How do you swim?”
I’m telling you, this whole visit was a huge ego boost. Apparently, my hips have zero strength, I have the spine of a brick wall and my hamstring pain is really priformis pain stemming from the tree trunk I have inserted into my back.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I saw a little sparkle in her eye. Wait…that was a needle she was holding up! What the hell?
PT: So, this new technique has proven very effective in athletes who need relief in a specific muscle or tendon. I’m using it with several of my patients, including your coach, and have had very positive results.
Me: Wow, that’s great. What does it feel like?
PT: First you will just feel some pressure and then it really depends on you. I’ve gotten a variety of feedback on sensations.
Me: Um, ok.
PT: You’re ok with needles, right?
Me: Sure, no problem there.
PT: Ok so what happens is, I stick it in, then penetrate the muscle which will hopefully stimulate a twitch or spasm response and will loosen up that peroneal tendon.
Me: What the what? In my muscle???
PT: You’ll be fine. You had twins, right?
This is when my brain was clearly sending the “flight” message to my legs but, since I ran that marathon five days prior and my legs prefer the prone position these days, I ignored it. Bad decision.
She gloved up (which is never a good sign) and then reached into what looked like a giant tackle box filled with acupuncture needles. She then took my left calf, felt around for a nice knot and stuck the needle in a little at a time. At first, it just felt like pressure but then she hit the muscle, it twitched hard and searing hot pain ran up my leg like she was shooting fireworks into my muscle. Holy mother!
She repeated this process three more times, each time taking the needle out and gently massaging my calf, until I cried “uncle!” I was now sweating and my calf felt like a rock. A rock of pain.
Initially, the pain in my tendon was completely released. It was like getting a massive massage that totally relaxed every muscle from my knee down. I had one completely limp leg with a weight strapped to it. No wait, that’s my calf.
I kind of limped out of the office and the next morning I checked my calf for bruising, convinced there would be, but there was none. The pain in my calf subsided fairly quickly and my peroneal tendon pain was definitely decreased. I didn’t run again for three more days and, when I did, it was still there but much less.
Overall, the therapist was fantastic. She definitely knew her stuff and because she’s a triathlete and marathon runner, she could relate to me on all the best and most important levels. All sarcasm aside (which you know I loved), she really did help with my hips and piriformis.
I shot this off to CRS afterward…
I now know I need to strength train 2-3 times per week, instead of the one day I was doing, and really focus on my hips. I also need to stretch in new and different ways and roll my back out daily.
Time will tell if all of this will help, but I’m definitely glad I went, except that now I’m afraid of flying and needles.
If you want to learn more about Trigger Point Dry Needling, this is a great article and another one, from The Washington Post, has a runner’s case study where the runner describes the pain as “electric charged spikes jabbing into my nerves.” He really captured the feeling.
Have you ever heard of this technique?
Would you try it?
Have you had good or bad (or any) experiences with a physical therapist?