Hey guys! Hope you’re having a great day.
You guys have been so encouraging with my knee frustrations that I wanted to share some *good* news with you for once… I have actually seen a bit of improvement in my knee recently! I mentioned in my knee update post last month that I decided to try dry needling. I have now finished 4 treatments so I thought I would share how it has been going.
What is dry needling?
So the idea of dry needling seems a lot like acupuncture to me. I’ve tried to understand the differences between the two… if you ask a physical therapist, they will tell you that dry needling is completely different from acupuncture. If you ask an acupuncturist, they will tell you that the two are the same. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the topic. I’ve been told that the that dry needling can use different ‘pressure points’ and the needles go a lot deeper into the muscle. The PT has also used a TENS unit on me for some extra stimulation.
I actually bypassed an offer to try out dry needling in the fall, and I really regret that now. After doing more research and talking to a lot of people who have had it done, dry needling seems like it can be really helpful for unresolved orthopedic issues.
Here’s how my treatment is going so far…
When I started dry needling, I was actually in a lot more pain than my ‘baseline’ knee issues because of my move in May. I was very uncomfortable and icing / anti-inflammatories were doing nothing. It hurt to walk and I was hardly functional. And I was miserable.
I’m not gonna lie… the idea of sticking needles in my knee freaked me out. The area was already so sore anyway that the thought of it made me cringe. But I was basically desperate to try anything.
My PT had me lay down on the table and propped my knee up to a 45 degree angle. He inserted 9 needles in specific spots in my knees. The experience reminded me of Forest Gump’s quote about a box of chocolates- I never knew what I was going to get. And not in a good way. I didn’t feel some needles at all. Other needles hurt really bad (and the PT removed them and inserted them in a new spot).
After the needles were in place and we were sure I wasn’t going to hyperventilate, the PT hooked 4 needles up to a TENS unit for 15 minutes.
The feeling was so weird but it didn’t hurt… just very tingly!
Week 1 results: I was honestly completely blown away by the immediate improvement in pain I felt after my first treatment was over. I could tell that my knee hurt less just walking out of the PT office. It was crazy. Session #1 completely cleared up my knee flare-up from the move and got me back to my baseline.
I had my second session 6 days later. I was cautiously optimistic about how things were going at this point. One would think after such good results that I would be less nervous about getting stuck with a few needles, but NOPE. I covered my face with a towel this time. It felt a little less embarrassing.
Same routine… the PT placed 9 needles and hooked me up to a TENS unit for 15 minutes. I noticed this time that he hooked 8 needles up to the TENS unit instead of 4. Maybe he thought I could handle the heat? Haha.
Week 2 results: I honestly didn’t notice much difference from my baseline pain this week.
Same routine, except this time we skipped a needle at the top of my knee cap that had been pretty painful the previous 2 weeks.
Week 3 results: A couple of good things happened after my 3rd treatment.
-I had previously only been able to swim about 500m at a time, but I was able to swim 1,000m in the pool that week. I didn’t have any soreness or issues afterwards.
-I spent a day at the lake where I paddle boarded and played in the water. All of the swimming and climbing on and off of the board didn’t bother me.
-And here’s something crazy- I actually jumped on a trampoline for a while (long story, adult beverages may have been involved) and my knee didn’t hurt at all. It wasn’t even sore the next day.
-The Sunday after my 3rd treatment, it was time to test out the bike! I rode for 10 minutes and I didn’t have any issues on a flat surface. I could tell I wasn’t ready to climb yet but I will take what I can get.
The fact that I did all of that physical activity and it didn’t cause me additional pain afterwards was very encouraging.
I just had my 4th treatment yesterday. Honestly, the insertion of the needles has not gotten easier for me. The thought of getting it done gives me anxiety but I’m just dealing with it because of the results I’ve had.
After I got off of work, I got in a little workout at the Y. I got on the elliptical for 15 minutes and then sat on the bike for another 10. I was starting to feel it in my knee, so I stopped. I also worked on my arms in the weight room. I had previously not even been able to use arm machines because just the tension of using my legs for stability caused me pain. So there’s another area of improvement.
Some important points:
- In addition to dry needling, I have been doing a ton of strength training at home as part of my PT plan. Dry needling is just part of the big picture.
- I think dry needling hurts, and I was kind of surprised by that. The insertion of the needle isn’t painful, but when the needle gets pushed deeper into the muscle? Yeah, no.
- My knee and lower thigh are usually sore for the next day. This is supposed to be normal.
- I’m still having my general baseline pain (mostly when I’m sitting) but dry needling has helped me expand my activity without causing flare-ups and acute pain.
I only have a handful of PT appointments left that are covered by insurance. The plan is to keep going with dry needling as I continue to build strength in my leg and increase activity. This week I’m putting flat pedals on my bike and increasing my ride to 20 minutes. Still sticking with a flat surface. Wish me luck
If things continue to improve then I think this may be the end of the road for me in terms of pursuing treatment options. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I don’t know if I have it in me right now to try to see a new doctor/chiropractor and start a whole new treatment plan. I had gotten to a point where I really just wanted to be functional in day-to-day life and I feel like dry needling is getting me there. I guess time will tell.
I am going to have to do a lot of soul-searching these next few weeks to figure out what level of activity I’m going to be happy with in the long run. I think I need to start coming to terms with the fact that I may always be dealing with a lingering knee issue, and that things like intense cardio and distance running really might not be a possibility for me anymore.
Would it be cool to run in a marathon or complete a triathlon? Sure. But I spent a whole day on the lake being active and having fun this weekend, and I haven’t been able to do something like that in almost a year. If I could get to a point where I could take a leisurely bike ride then I will be happy. And I think if that is as far as my recovery goes then I might be able to be okay with that.
I’ll sign off here with this picture I found online because it describes the love affair I have with my bike pretty accurately. I think we all have something in our life that makes us feel really happy like this.
Keep your fingers crossed for me <3