Dry Needling for Athletic Trainers
Dry Needling (DN) is a powerful clinical tool to alleviate pain and improve function, and it is extremely useful for athletes. As a D1 ice hockey player in college, I have personal experience in this area as a patient, and I have felt its amazing benefits.
Although high quality research on many aspects of DN is still in its infancy, some areas have been researched more extensively, specifically where pain is concerned. With the advancements in technology, the pathophysiologic mechanisms and efficacy of DN pain relief are becoming better understood and indicate that more practitioners should be utilizing this treatment.
Although DN is not allowed by every state, it is allowed in many states. For athletic trainers who practice in a state where DN is not allowed, this course remains beneficial as it allows practitioners to become familiar with the technique and experience DN for themselves, and it also educates practitioners about various pain pathways, mechanisms of action, and other potential ways to reduce pain and improve outcomes. This includes being knowledgeable about different forms of pain management, which allows for effective interdisciplinary referrals to maximize patient outcomes. Long story short: You’ll be able to build a better repertoire to help your clients.
Why Should ATs Learn Dry Needling?
Evidence-based research indicates that DN is an effective and safe alternative form of pain management, and it is a method that can significantly improve muscle function and athletic performance. However, the majority of ATs are not certified in DN. With more Athletic Trainers, Physical Therapists, chiropractors, and other health care professionals safely performing DN, patients are provided a safe alternative to typical pain management. This will, in turn, allow for improved patient outcomes.
Athletic trainers are frontline health care professionals who are able to add another treatment method into their toolbox with DN, allowing for improved treatment and outcomes for many patients.
Evidence-based research, along with clinical experience, indicates that DN is a safe and extremely effective form of treatment for a variety of impairments. There is a practice gap between the current evidence on Dry Needling (DN) techniques as a form of pain management and improving athletic performance and the clinical practice of DN for pain management, with clinical practice lacking. There is also a lack of scientific knowledge and applicable skills related to DN in the Athletic Training field. With more athletic trainers practicing DN, treatment efficacy and patient outcomes will improve.
The lack of the clinical practice of DN in athletic training settings is exemplified via evidence-based research and personal clinical experience working with and teaching ATs, as well as through speaking with AT university programs. DN is extremely beneficial in the AT setting and will help both patients and ATs achieve maximal success.
What Conditions Does DN Treat?
Dry Needling treats a wide variety of impairments including neurologic, orthopedic, geriatric, sports, TBI, and stroke-related secondary impairments to name a few. There are many known scientific facts about DN, and we are coming to understand its effect on the human body more and more as technology, understanding, and research advances.
DN has a profound, therapeutic effect on the nervous system, including the ANS, with a general, overall effect of decreased sympathetics and increased parasympathetics. I believe DN’s effect on the ANS is the primary reason for its efficacy. How it affects the ANS is also one of the least understood aspects of DN; however, a lot of cool new research is being done on this.
Being a former athlete myself, I can tell you from personal experience that DN works great for sports injuries. I used to pull my R adductor longus all the time when I played hockey, and DN fixed a chronic problem quickly. If more athletes had access to DN, injuries both on and off the field would be reduced dramatically. DN is the most powerful tool I know of to reduce muscle shortening which, in turn, improves muscle performance. DN also balances out the nervous system, which allows our bodies to function on a higher level when the demand arises.
Aside from athletic injuries, DN can help a wide variety of patients with a wide variety of problems. Chronic or acute muscle or joint pain, signs and symptoms of central sensitization (allodynia, hyperalgesia, etc.), and impairments associated with autoimmune disorders are all things commonly treated with DN, depending on the setting you are in.
Autoimmune disorders cause a wide variety of impairments depending on the disorder and the patient. A good friend of mine, who started off as a patient, has relapse remitting MS. He first came to me with terrible LBP and muscle tightness and soreness all over. He responded immediately to DN and has continued to improve his ability to work and perform other activities with less pain and fatigue. One thing to be wary of is that patients may experience a small “autoimmune flare” following DN, which may aggravate their symptoms. This is normal and will resolve. Once resolved, patients typically feel much better than prior to Tx. This does not happen with everyone, but it is something to be aware of.
We know that DN has the overall effect of lowering sympathetic tone. All patients with an autoimmune disorder have a constantly elevated SANS to some degree or another, as their body is attacking itself. Based on these two factors, it would stand to reason that DN may help patients with autoimmune disorder, and it does. Here are some additional references and articles on the topic:
Time effect for in-situ dry needling on the autonomic nervous system, a pilot study
Benefits of dry needling of myofascial trigger points on autonomic function and photoelectric plethysmography in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome
Efficacy of dry needling as an adjunct to manual therapy
Blood flow response to DN
What Will ATs Learn from Dry Needling?
I truly believe that all Athletic Trainers (ATs) should perform Dry Needling, just like I believe that all PTs and all DCs should perform DN. DN is a powerful treatment for all types of patients; however, certain groups typically respond the best to DN, particularly athletes. Like I mentioned before, I played D1 ice hockey in college and am speaking from experience as a patient and as a clinician. DN is the most powerful tool I have ever been treated with, and it is the most powerful tool I know how to use when treating my athletic patients.
ATs will learn needling methods to rapidly decrease injury time, improve muscle performance, eliminate muscle tightness, improve recovery speed, eliminate muscle pain, and much more. DN has an overall calming effect on the nervous system, which is continuously in overdrive in athletes. With continuous sympathetic overdrive, the body’s ability to function becomes compromised. DN is an excellent way to combat this and to help athletes perform better, longer, with less injury.
Athletic, healthy, young people typically respond strongly to DN. Athletes show surprisingly quick improvements following proper application of DN, and the effects are lasting. DN also significantly reduces injury frequency. One of the most frequent causes of pathology in athletes is muscle tightness. Muscles function poorly when tight, joints are not properly supported, ligaments are not as pliable, flexibility is compromised, etc. DN is the fastest and most effective way to reduce muscle tightness that we currently have access to.
ATs will learn how to needle many structures throughout the body including, muscles, tendons, ligaments, periosteum, and more. Many athletic injuries are multifaceted, often including injury to the periosteum with resulting periostitis. Unless you have used needles before, treating this condition is often extremely difficult. With needles, you will be able to directly treat and heal the periosteum along with other surrounding pathologic tissues. This is one of the many important advantages to having needles at your disposal when treating all patients, especially athletes.
If you’re looking to expand your services and learning more about Dry Needling, we’re here to help. Angela and I teach every course together to provide a unique experience for our students. The student-to-teacher ratio is improved, students receive a more personalized course experience, students uncomfortable in certain areas of the body have both a male and female instructor present, and students receive 2 similar, but differing perspectives on all aspects of dry needling and spinal manipulation.
- Full body covered in DN 1, 2 & 3.
- Male & female instructor at every class.
- Laid back, relaxing class environment.
- 4 DN & 3 Manipulation courses offered.
- Earn your 6 course, Intricate Art Manual Therapy Certification (IAMTC) or Intricate Art Dry Needling certification (IADN cert.).
- Full time, permanent access via phone or email to both instructors.
- Access to a weekly blog discussing recent dry needling & manipulation research, theory & clinical practice.
- Access to our DN videos showing how to needle specific structures.
- Support a veteran-owned business.