Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dry Needling – Tattooing with No Ink?

The strand of muscle stood out on the inside of my forearm like the E-string stretched taut on a double bass.  It ran from the inside of my right elbow nearly to my wrist.  It throbbed and was painful to even the light touch of Carl, the young physiotherapist sitting opposite me at our kitchen table.  I knew it was a consequence of Parkinson’s disease; the stiffness and unconscious effort to control the tremor created the tightness strange aching.  Having traced its course, Carl started with some deep muscle massage, I had a difficult time stifling groans of pain as he kneaded the muscle with his thumbs.  And when he drove his knuckles bulldozer-like up my arm, moving from wrist to elbow along the tortured path of the stubborn sinew, I had to ask for some respite.  I knew that the muscle was buckled and knotted and needed to be stretched.  But the pain…
Carl kept me talking, as if doing so prevented me from screaming, and asked, “Have you ever tried acupuncture?”  Having experimented with acupuncture once on a cruise (see my post from that experience) I wasn’t overly enthusiastic.  However, this led to his introduction of “dry needling”.  Curious phrase.  Sounded cruel.  Had I looked up the concept I would’ve learned that it was a close cousin to acupuncture but with more hard science and less mystique.  It uses similar solid core (as opposed to hypodermic hollow core – “wet”) needles to probe trigger points for intramuscular stimulation in order to relieve muscle pain.  While not common, it is used by trained physiotherapists for relief of golf and tennis elbow pain.  Maybe it was to avoid the continued punishment by massage, but I quickly agreed to try it. 
The needles were very thin.  About the size of a human hair.  Half the size of sewing thread.  It was like using the smallest tattoo needle, but without the ink.  Carl carefully marked the path of the offending muscle, although the angry red snake stretching down my forearm was easy to identify.  Next, he tapped the 1 inch long (35mm) needles out of their storage tubes (like finger-propelled blow guns), through the skin and into the unsuspecting muscle.  I half expected to hear the scream of a dragon that had been pierced through its neck by a sword.  But there was no pain.  No blood.  Only a strange tingling sensation.  As Carl tapped in the second and third needles into the burning muscle he explained that the procedure was like coaxing the muscle to relax, loosening its grip and resting a while. 
As I explained my Parkinson’s symptoms to Carl while he poked and prodded under the skin of my arm with those tiny needles I realized that very few people understand that Parkinson’s disease isn’t just tremors and stiffness.  There can be real pain involved.

I must admit that I was relieved when my session was over.  While my forearm muscle in question was very tender, and a bit swollen from the beating it had taken, it did feel more relaxed.  Dry needling didn’t seem like such a far-fetched idea anymore.


  1. I agree there are many Parkinson's symptoms that are hidden from non-sufferers including the frustrating disobedience the body has for sufferers’ conscious will and the subsequent feeling that you are a puppet whose strings are controlled by Parkinson’s.

    They will miss the sheer mind numbing exhaustion, the feelings of helplessness and depression, the urge to urinate every 5 minutes, the food that gets stuck in your throat because swallowing is affected, the irresistible sleepiness and the battle not to close yourself down in the face of all this.

    dr jonny

  2. Wow...fascinating! I am hearing more and more about the benefits of 'needles, on many things. Kaiser, surprisingly offers acupuncture...

  3. I had gone years with really rigid tight muscles and started this IMS needling. My physio can now get deep enough to fix the route problems with my back and hip, not to mention allow the rigidity in my tremor affected arm to loosen up. I can't say enough about it. Especially, now that I have been diagnosed with PD. It was interesting pre diagnosis going for physio, my physiotherapist couldn't figure out why the muscles were so "commited" as she put it. The IMS culled their commitment, now in combination with medication I can stay pretty loose for an extended period .

    By the way, thankyou for the blog. Being diagnosed just last year it has given me food for thought. Kept me looking for more in the new life that I have to lead.