I’ve been through traditional physical therapy so much in the last six years, I feel like I’m close to earning my PT certification without stepping foot in a classroom. I can walk you through typical therapy routines off the top of my head.
So when my reoccurring hip injury cropped up last summer, my doctor suggested I take a new route and try trigger point therapy.
“Some people hate it and swear they’ll never do it again.” I remember my doc saying to me the day he suggested it. “But some people love it. I have a feeling you’ll be one of those people....”
The first thing you should know about trigger point is that it sometimes involves needles. Yes, needles. I like to think of it as active acupuncture, even though that description isn’t 100% medically accurate.
The theory behind trigger point is relieving pain by working on tiny knots that develop on overworked muscles. Sometimes the pain you’re having in your knee isn’t coming from your knee at all; it’s referred pain from one of these knots somewhere else. Therapists work on getting those tiny knots to release using their hands or inserting small needles into the trigger points. You know it’s working when your muscles start twitching.
Or at least I did – and so did the patients featured on YouTube clips I watched to prepare myself for it.
Once I decided to willingly try the therapy that would involve someone sticking needles in me, I started seeing the new physical therapist. The first few visits he used his hands and elbows to hit trigger points. But on the third visit he pulled out the needles. By then, I was trying to push those YouTube clips I’d watched out of my head.
That first time he focused on my left hip, which is where my pain has found a home over the years. To be honest, the first two needles didn’t really hurt. They were a little uncomfortable, but I was fascinated to feel how my muscles were twitching as the therapist poked around.
But by the time the fourth needle went in, my fascination was replaced by fire down my left leg and nausea. “I don’t know how much more I can take,” I said, fighting back tears and trying to be tough.
Not as bad as I thought
“You’re done,” the therapist said. “Look. You bent it,” he said as he held up the fourth needle. He explained that the bent needle was a good sign because it meant he was hitting the right triggers that made my muscles twitch and bend the needle.
After that first round with the needles, I was nauseous for a couple hours. Walking wasn’t easy either. But the nausea died down, and I wasn’t as sore as I expected the next morning.
I’m still seeing the therapist. He’s used the needles on other trigger points including spots in my right hip, lower back, and calves, none of which hurt as much as that first time. The therapist explains that’s because my body is repairing itself so he doesn’t have to dig as deep to find the knots anymore. I guess my doc pegged me right when he said he suspected I’d be the type of person who enjoyed being stuck with needles. Who knew?
Trigger Point Therapy is also known as myofascial release therapy.