And everything you ever wanted to know about dry needling.
What is dry needling? That’s a question I received after posting about my experience on Instagram. How in the world I could think something called “dry needling” A. wouldn’t involve needles, and B. wouldn’t hurt, is either a testament to the power of positive thinking or me being in complete denial. Either way it played a key role in getting my hamstring healed.
Each new journey to even plant your feet at the starting line of a marathon is going to be filled with challenges. Training your body to run 26.2 miles takes a tremendous physical toll. Experience has taught me how to manage the issues my particular body faces: runner’s knee, IT band tightness, chronic inflammation, and just to keep things interesting, even a little plantar fasciitis on my right foot. But I felt like I had a good handle on it. I see my physical therapist each week for Graston treatment, also called scraping, and then I always see my chiropractor for an adjustment and active release therapy. These two treatments had been the magic formula that kept me injury free for my last 3 marathons.
My physical therapist, who is cautious, wise, and always gives it to me straight, has been warning me that increasing miles and speed is a sure way to end up with a running injury. The last few treatments I could tell he was imploring me to be a bit more conservative, he was saying things like, “You’re teetering on the verge of an injury here Katie.”
Who me? Never.
Why haven’t I learned to listen better?
So what happened? Two things, I got lazy and I overdid it.
First, the lazy part. I became really complacent with recovery. I typically use the Roll Recovery R8, a foam roller, and a roll out “stick” each night before I go to bed. But with the exhaustion of working full time, a hard training schedule, and balancing home life, all I wanted to do was face plant into my pillow at the end of the day. Similarly, the last thing I wanted to do after a long training run, in the middle of winter, was suffer for 10 more minutes in an ice bath. No thank you.
Next, I overdid it. I ran two hard races two weekends in a row and then capped that all off with a tough round of speed work the following Tuesday. And just like that my hamstring was injured. What had been a niggle, a cranky little mid-section of my hamstring, was now a full blown angry and aggravated strain.
I quickly scheduled an appointment with my PT, who identified it as a possible slight tear, definitely a fibrous mass, for sure injured. He treated it with Graston and then recommended I take 5 full days off, warning me that the tell-tale sign of a real injury would be if the pain immediately came back when I started to run again.
After the five days, it was still there.
Thankfully, I have really amazing runner friends who’ve been down the hamstring healing rabbit hole before. Two different friends recommended that I try dry needling. They swore it was the best treatment for helping those strained muscles heal faster.
Enter Dr. Tyler Williams.
When he first assessed the damage, he acknowledged that it was bad, but was fairly positive that we could get it healed before my next race. Then he showed me a very long, thin, and intimidating looking needle that would be inserted into my hamstring. 3 of them actually. Deep breaths.
Dry needling is a fairly common treatment used by chiropractors and physical therapists. According to www.moveforwardpt.com, “Physical therapists use dry needling with the goal of releasing or inactivating trigger points to relieve pain or improve range of motion. Preliminary research supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. This can help speed up the patient’s return to active rehabilitation.”
So picture me, face down on the chiropractor’s table, holding my 4-year-old’s hand, knowing that I can’t really traumatize her much more than witnessing this experience would (please don’t judge, it was a last minute appointment and I didn’t even know he’d be doing the dry needling on the first appointment). My sweet, little daughter told me that I was squeezing her hand a bit too tightly, and as she patted my head, she reminded me that I was fine and that everything would be okay. Maybe career in medicine will be in her future, those Doc McStuffins cartoons teach great bedside manners.
Now my friends are some tough girls and they told me it wouldn’t hurt, but that was a lie (I love you Sarah and Crystal-mwah). It hurt, not the insertion of the needle, you can barely feel that at all because the needle is so thin, but when needle is moved around inside the tendon or muscle that’s being treated, the pain almost feels like electric shocks. It’s a totally manageable pain and thankfully the process is pretty quick, but yes, I thought it hurt. Dr. Williams followed the dry needling with ultrasound therapy and taping. The first treatment helped, but by the second treatment, 3 days later, I could feel it really improving.
This treatment allowed me to keep running, not far and not fast, but I was still able to hold my base miles down and not lose too much fitness.
At my last visit, which makes 4 total, Dr. Williams only inserted one needle and kept telling me that he was so happy with the progress, and that my hamstring was almost completely healed.
The dry needling definitely worked, but it wasn’t the only change I made to help my hamstring heal as fast as possible. Here are the other steps I incorporated into the recovery equation that helped my body repair.
- I wear my hamstring sleeve from Zensah on all my runs. It provides great support just the way compression socks do (see the first post picture).
2. Morning and night I lather up my sore muscles with Deep Blue Rub. It has magical powers.
3. I roll out multiple times a day-no exceptions. Tired is not an excuse when you’re training.
4. Before I run, I do a few sets of glute bridges to get my muscles to turn on and engage. I also do a dynamic warmup and sets of stairs before launching into a speed workout.
5. I’ve been
suffering doing ice baths after each long run. No pain, no gain.
6. I stayed positive. I refused to let this injury get the best of me mentally, and I am a huge believer in the power of positive thinking.
We learn so much on the road to every marathon. The journey there will never be easy, growth won’t come from doing easy things. The challenges, the hardships, the frustrations are there to give us a chance to overcome it, to teach us if we’re willing to learn. We have to remember that most things are “figure-out-able,” we need to reach out to other runners and professionals for guidance when we need help, and positivity is powerful tool. As long as we keep learning and growing, throughout this journey, we keep running our own lives. Hopefully injury free.
Happy running friends!
Have you tried dry needling?
How do you mitigate running injuries?
What’s your favorite tool for rolling out at home?