About the author: Julie Schumann has been a physical therapist for over 20 years. She has been an active pain relief practitioner through her use of dry needling, manual therapy, and common sense advice. She thrives on seeing her clients walk out of her office feeling a whole lot better than when they walked in. She does not believe in cure-all medicines, treatments, or techniques. Every human body is unique and responds uniquely. She believes in taking some extra time in finding quality products and services that may influence healthy mind, body, and movement.
Anyone who knows me in person or has been a client of mine, knows that I staunchly stick up for and use dry needling as a big part of my self-designed physical therapy approach. I say self-designed because I do not work for a large physical therapy or medical corporation who tells me how much time I can spend with each client and how many different therapies I must administer to each client to enable the most costly billing practices each day. I work for myself and not in cooperation with any insurance companies. I outline a plan for each client and I do that time and cost effectively. I do not provide clients with long-term, dragged out treatment plans that are generally seen in busy clinics in the way of supervising clients ride exercise bikes, do wall squats, and stretch their hamstrings. That supervision comes with a hefty price tag to the consumer. Look at that, I almost veered into a conversation about the great insurance ripoff and how it is rare that physical therapy is actually 'covered' by insurance. I won't go there. That is not the topic today.
When I see a client, new or repeat, I make it known that I will likely do dry needling for them to help whatever pain syndrome they are having. I use dry needling to treat sciatica, neck pain, hip pain, shoulder pain, tendinitis, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, headaches, bursitis, low back pain, tmj pain, plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, rotator cuff issues, and many other neuromuscular ailments. What do all of these things have in common? They can be helped by treating with a neurophysiological approach. Nerves and physiology (nerve pathways, circulation, anatomy). Nerves are the main angry component of pain. Without nerves being compromised and sending signals to the brain that something is wrong and scary, then the brain sending pain signals to specific body regions, we don't have pain. Nerves travel to and through muscles, joints, skin, organs, and fascia. Our nervous systems provides our foundation for movement, sensation, posture, agility, handedness, organ function, detoxification, thinking, sleeping, and fight & flight reactions. When I see clients in person, I am usually tracking down some sort of nervous system flare up. When a nerve/s get angry specific muscles get angry creating fairly specific pain patterns. In 20+ years of being a physical therapist, I have used dry needling for 10+ years regularly to ease these pain patterns.
The results from dry needling have been reported to be from mechanical and neurophysiological changes. Mechanical, meaning something local (firmness of a taught band, chemical reaction, circulation) at the site of pain changed. Neurophysiological, meaning the nerve signals have reduced their agitation levels. These changes come about by input (the needle) to the neuromusculofascial system and output from the brain that elicits a relaxing or perhaps a parasympathetic response. Quite often this response is deemed pain relief which allows for a person move better, exercise better, sleep better, and carry on with life's activities better.
Pain happens. Not everyone has access to this treatment when needed. So what else is there? What else can someone do at home to create these neurophysiological outcomes without seeing a physical therapist, acupuncturist, massage therapist, bodyworker, or chiropractor? All of these professionals are trained to apply certain inputs to the human (or animal) body to create pain relief through nervous system relaxation. Usually, the input given is some form of compression or mobilization of tissue or joints. When you wake up with a stiff neck, don't you normally reach for your shneck (shoulder-neck) muscles to knead and compress them? So let's talk about a few things that you can do on your own to maintain tissue mobility, circulation, and relaxation to muscles and nerves.
Foam Rolling: This has been a favorite with the runners, Crossfitters, triathletes, and general weekend warriors. The idea is to compress the neuro-musculo-fascial regions where tightness or pain exists. A great example is rolling the calves to reduce muscle soreness, improve ankle joint mobility, and detoxify the region after a workout. It seems time matters. If rolling is done before exercise to warm up the muscles and get them ready for activity, 1-2 minutes should do the trick. For an exercise cool down and relaxation, 2-5 minutes per region should be good. Greater benefits can be seen if an active joint motion is done at the same time as the compression. So get that ankle moving while compressing the calf with the roller! Newer additions to the foam rolling scene are the vibrating and textured foam rollers for enhanced therapeutic value. Check out TriggerPoint Company to see a variety of foam rollers and rolling tools and balls for muscular bliss.
And, well, sometimes you want more. Crossfitters, ultra runners, and triathletes have also been beating themselves up with mechanical percussion devices. What's a mechanical percussion device? It's one of those hand held gun type devices that delivers punches of force to the weary overworked muscles. It seems to be all the rage for muscle recovery. As with any new device for therapeutic means, if you decide to go this path of at-home muscle recovery, go easy with it until you know how your body tolerates it. And stick to the muscles not the bony parts. And certainly don't go percussing and rolling the lumbar spine (low back). You may end up doing more harm than good. This device, called Impact, is offered by TriggerPoint. It is less expensive than its competitors.
These are just a few thoughts on what you can do at home to relieve muscle soreness, tightness, and tension. Foam roller, vibration, and percussion techniques may not feel very relaxing if muscles are irritable, but should feel better after your session. Another means of compressing tissues and providing neurological input for decrease pain would be applying kinesiology tape. Various brands exist: Rock Tape, KT tape, Kinesio Tape, and SpiderTech. These companies usually offer visuals, instructions, and videos on their websites so that you can apply the tape at home. Follow their instructions!
Research: There does not seem to be a lot of research one way or the other regarding things like foam rolling, percussion, cupping, and kinesiology tape. The current thought is that these things may be able to decrease pain, improve range of motion, improve mobility, and improve quality of personal functional well-being. If your symptoms unrelenting and causing concern for you, please check in with your medical doctor. Also, many states allow direct access to some amazing healthcare professionals who know their anatomy as well as how to treat a plethora of neuromusculofascial pain problems. My personal recommendation would be to seek the assistance of a physical therapist!
Disclaimer: J. Schumann Physical Therapy/PinPoint Wellness has an affiliate marketing relationship with various companies. This blog contains affiliate links through which, if you shop, J. Schumann/Pinpoint Wellness will receive a small commission at no cost to you the consumer. All questions about specific products, uses, and dosages should be directed to the maker of the product. Statements regarding CBD have not been evaluated by The Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.