For Trista Saulter, helping out her patients at Advance Physical Therapy sometimes takes a little needling.
Saulter received training in dry needling last month. Dry needling is a technique in which thin, stainless steel needles are inserted into “trigger areas” in a person’s muscle or tissue. This can help reduce tension, improve circulation and normalize a person’s physiological systems.
Though they may look similar in practice, dry needling is not acupuncture.
“A lot of people think of it as acupuncture, but it’s not acupuncture,” Saulter said. “Dry needling is based on the laws of modern medicine, whereas acupuncture is based around traditional Chinese medicine.”
One of the key differences between the two is its intended method of tension relief. In acupuncture, needles are inserted along meridians meant to open up a person’s energy flow. In dry needling, the filaform needles are inserted directly into the area where the patient is feeling discomfort.
Without getting too technical, Saulter — a Doctor of Physical Therapy — said the idea is to create lesions in the muscle tissue which prompt the body to go through its normal healing process. It can be used to treat any number of musculoskeletal conditions or issues including back and neck pain, headaches and tendinitis.
Saulter, a Little Falls native who started working at Advance Physical Therapy in July after receiving her doctorate from the University of North Dakota, said she decided to get trained in dry needling so she had “another tool in her toolbox” when treating her patients.
“Mike (Arneson), the owner here, and I are the only two doctors of physical therapy we have” she said. “He uses it on a lot of his patients and has been seeing a lot of benefits.”
It has only been about a month since Saulter went through her three-day long training through Integrative Dry Needling in Blaine. There, she received a crash course through labs, lectures and, before coming back to Little Falls, practice on actual patients.
So far, she said she is “slowly working her way into it.” She has, however, used it to treat some patients for neck pain and headaches.
Dry needling sessions don’t take a long time and patients usually experience little discomfort, or none at all. Saulter said it often depends on the muscles being treated in terms of how long the needles are left in. The length of time can range from needles being pulled in and out to being inserted and left in for three, five or 10 minutes. The number of needles inserted also is dependent on the area of treatment as well as the patient’s comfort level.
“It shouldn’t be a painful process,” Saulter said. “We usually start by showing the patient a few of the spots where it might be beneficial to do dry needling as a treatment. We start slow and explain the benefits. For some people who have been experiencing something like neck pain for a long time and we let them know that this could help, it’s kind of intriguing to them.”
She said dry needling is typically used in conjunction with other modalities and is rarely the only form of treatment a patient will receive.
How many treatments a person will need to receive also depends on the type of issue and where it is located on the body.
“You can see a difference in one treatment,” Saulter said. “Will things be 100% cleared up in one treatment? Not necessarily. But you should be able to notice a difference after one treatment.”