Physical therapy team teaches new technique
A physical therapist, attending a class on the physical therapy technique of dry-needling, attempts to insert a needle into the foot of a fellow student April 6 at Irwin Army Community Hospital. The relatively new, highly-portable technique calls for the application of a fine acupuncture needle into muscle tissue to release tension and ease pain. Photo by: Sgt. Daniel Stoutamire, 2ND ABCT.
Story by: Sgt. Daniel Stoutamire
2ABCT PUBLIC AFFAIRS
More than a dozen physical therapists, representing military installations across the region and the nation, visited Fort Riley April 5 to 7 to learn some of the finer points of dry-needling, a relatively new and highly-portable physical therapy technique which is used to relieve muscular pain and discomfort.
The technique calls for the use of a very-fine point needle, about 20 to 30 times finer than the needles used for intravenous injections, to be placed into the patient's muscle fibers, where it will puncture a knot of contracted muscle and release it, resulting in the muscle returning to its natural relaxed state and a reduction of pain for the patient.
"As a part of the evaluation of a patient, you … palpate the trigger points or muscle knots," said Capt. Sarah Baker, physical therapist, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. "Once you've identified those muscle knots, and if they are a part of the patient's pain or dysfunction, you are going to stick a … solid thin needle … into the muscle to elicit a twitch response or a muscle contraction."
The technique can be used in a variety of places on the body, with some exceptions.
"It can be used almost anywhere, but you don't want to go above the neckline," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Hernandez, physical therapy technician, 2nd ABCT. "It's generally used on bigger muscle groups, like the buttocks, triceps, mid-back area and hips, or the feet, hands and ankles."
While being stuck with a needle might not be everyone's idea of therapeutic, the instructors of the course, as well as the students who did hands-on training, said the technique was unobtrusive and relatively painless.
"Before (the procedure), I might have some pain or a tight muscle," said Capt. Emmanuel J. Easterling, assistant chief, physical therapy, Fort Meade, Md., who instructed the course. "So, if I get a dry needling, during the procedure, it feels like a deep sort of dull achy or throbbing feeling. Also, the muscles jump and twitch a little bit. Afterwards, I'm sore for one or two days, but after that, I feel pretty good."
Students had the opportunity to practice on one another as instructors looked on.
"We were mostly recipients from student to student, so there was a lot of nervous energy that goes along with that, but what I was really surprised about was that it didn't really hurt, even in the hands of someone who is just learning how to do it," said Maj. Regina Reager, a student and deputy chief officer in charge, obstetrics and gynecology. "There is a little bit of muscle pressure, and they hit the trigger points, and it feels like more of a bruising sensation, and afterwards is a really nice relaxing feeling with greater freedom of movement."
One of the technique's chief advantages is its portability.
"That is the wonderful thing, it is incredibly portable," Baker said. "We would certainly use it in a deployed environment. We recently used it while we were out at the National Training Center. It is a wonderful tool."
That being said, instructors noted, the technique will not be and should not be an end-all, be-all universal solution to every patient's problems.
"I'd say with any type of thing we do in medicine, it is all about matching the right intervention with the right patient," Easterling said. "This is simply an additional tool to have in the toolbox to use with a particular patient that you've maybe tried other things with in their care, and if they haven't worked, then it is an alternative intervention and hope to get better results for that patient."