Put a Pin in It

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Pain-free needle to ease your pain? Yep, it’s a thing.

I bet it’s a freaky sight.

I’m lying face down in a quiet, darkened room with 10 needles sticking out of my shoulders while I’m trying to “relax.” A few of the needles are connected to what looks like a car battery with tiny clamps. Those needles pulse rhythmically while the others sit quietly, deep into my muscles. 

Dry needling is similar to traditional Chinese acupuncture in that they use the same tiny, almost imperceptible, needles. However, the therapies are distinctly different when it comes to philosophy and terminology. Where acupuncturists claim to move “qi” along pathways that correspond with organs, systems or functions to restore balance, the Western approach is based on anatomy, physiology and stimulating a response from the body. 

Simply put, “Dry needling increases circulation and muscular relaxation, and decreases pain to the area being treated,” says Stayce McKenzie, a physical therapist at OPTIM. “It brings good stuff in and pushes the bad stuff out to promote healing.” 

Both practices acknowledge how the body functions like a network. Throw one part out of whack and another goes with it. The problem is, too often doctors focus on alleviating a symptoms such as pain), but not necessarily addressing the root of the problem.

This is particularly true when it comes to women’s pelvic health, which was an entirely foreign term to me until I spoke with McKenzie, one of the few therapists in the area to specialize in the field.
She tells me the body is all about “balance,” which sounds like a pretty Eastern concept to me, until she instructs me to stand on one leg. “You’re off balance,” she declares (oh, if she only knew). “You have weakness in your left glute.” She asks if I have lower back and hip pain. Yes, and yes. “One hip sits higher than the other,” she adds, which brings an end to my long-held belief that my right leg is longer than the other. 

“When we think of our core, we think abs and back muscles,” says McKenzie. “But you need to think about the top and bottom of the canister formed by those muscles: the diaphragm and the pelvis.” For women, a weakness in the pelvic floor, also known as prolapse, can cause backache, hip problems, painful intercourse, numbness and incontinence often associated with pregnancy.
Unfortunately, many women who endure these symptoms either do so silently or are told to give their bodies “extra time to heal.” But while silence and time might not help, physical therapy may.
McKenzie begins with an external and internal examination of the pelvic area, which is similar to an annual exam performed by an OB-GYN. “I feel for tissue tone,” says McKenzie. “Often there are
restrictions and pain that patients don’t even realize are there.”

From there, she can prescribe exercises to improve strength and function. She can use dry needling to stimulate certain muscles, making the patient more aware of what’s needed to properly squeeze, lift and “fire” the pelvic floor. She can also target nerve points that correspond with certain organs, such as the bladder.

In about 10 minutes, McKenzie teaches me how to fire my pelvic muscles, breathe more effectively and strengthen the weak neck muscles contributing to the tightness in my shoulders that she’s treating today with dry needling, which is why I’m in a dark room with needled shoulders and battery hookup. While I didn’t feel the needles go in, I do feel their presence, irritating my angry muscles. And I’m relieved when McKenzie returns about 20 minutes later to take them out.

When I peel myself off the table, I’m dazed and confused, as if I’ve had a deep-tissue massage. The next day I’m sore, but it’s a good kind of sore. A get-the-bad-stuff -out-and-the-good-stuff -in
kind of sore. The treatment and the techniques McKenzie gave me made me acutely aware of my body in a way I hadn’t been in a long time, if ever. You can call it “qi,” you can call it trigger points, but I’m going to just call it effective … and spread the word.

OPTIM Therapy, 210 E. DeRenne Ave., 912.644.5333