So far, I have been really fortunate to not have any injuries in my training. (Knock on wood!) The last injury that I can remember occurred during pregnancy when I had to take about a month off because my ankle was hurting when I ran. I was able to continue cross training, but running put too much strain on my ankle in addition to the weight of pregnancy and associated gait changes. (Thankfully, with the rest time, I was able to continue running at about 20 weeks and ran through pregnancy until the day that I went into labor.
I largely attribute the absence of injuries to the strength plan that my coach has created for me and to preventative maintenance. The week before my most recent marathon in January, I started to notice that my hamstring was really tight. I raced without injury, but I definitely felt the tightness during the race, and I was never able to roll or stretch the discomfort away. For a month, I did cross training while I recovered, so I didn’t really test the hamstring under the same duress of my normal running schedule. Within the first week back to my normal training cycle, my hamstring was crying again.
With a goal race less than two months away, I was distraught at the idea of any additional time off while I attempted to loosen the hamstring (not to mention that none of my former efforts like massage and rolling were getting me anywhere). So I asked around and found a good physical therapist who specialized in dry needling. I remember reading Kaci Lickteig’s blog post from last year where she attributed her return to running to dry needling. If the girl who wins Western States believes in it, I could at least give it a try!
I scheduled my first dry needling session in February, and found the experience to be way less painful than I had heard others describe it, and the results were pretty magical. I’ve since returned for another hamstring session and one session for my shin area. It’s $90 a session where I live, and my insurance doesn’t cover it. That’s pretty expensive, and I’m thankful that my husband lets me budget for luxuries like this.
How it feels: My experience with dry needling is that most of the insertion places just cause a slight twinge and jump of the muscle. I have had a few times that the insertion location has felt a little more achy, but overall, I wouldn’t describe dry needling as painful. Remember that runners typically have a pretty high threshold of pain! I am also a little stiff after the session, and it’s recommended not to try to exercise the same day as your session because your mechanics might be off, and you’d hate to create another injury while recovering from dry needling. Ha! (I have done some strength work after a session though.) My physical therapist advised that more hydrated bodies feel less pain during needling, so drink up before your first session!
My results: I have had slight relief after the sessions, but the real relief normally doesn’t set in until after the first day or two. I often have the dry needling appointments in the afternoon, and I can still feel a little tightness the next day on my run. But by the second or third day, the muscles have generally released and the magic of dry needling is realized. Voila!
How it works: A needle is inserted into a myofascial trigger point to produce a local twitch response. This twitch results in muscle relaxation due to the release of shortened bands of muscle fibers. The local twitch responses are spinal cord reflexes, which helps break the pain cycle. Not much is understood about dry needling, but the results speak for themselves. When my hamstring was so tight, the physical therapist determined that my hamstring wasn’t really tight, as my leg could fold at a 90 degree angle, but I had knots in the hamstring that made me perceive tightness. Dry needling signaled for my hamstring to release and removed the feeling of tightness that I was experiencing.
So far I am a happy customer when it comes to dry needling. While I’d love to not have any pains requiring this type of treatment, it is inevitable with my body and the type of training that I am doing. It’s nice to have dry needling in my toolbox when I need it.
Has anyone else tried dry needling? What have your experiences been?