Last month I was fortunate enough to audit an advanced level needling course that I originally took in 2015. It was still in development when I first took the course and a lot of new research and techniques had been added and fine tuned in version 2.0. One of the most important take aways reinforced the idea that the nerve is a critical tissue in reducing pain and healing soft tissue (muscle, tendon, ligament, and fascia). Our nerves have the power to create pain, alter it, and take it away. The nerves communicate with the soft tissues relaying information to and from the brain about what’s happening. Additionally, the nerve is a very active structure containing it’s own blood flow and nutrients. This means that like any tissue it can itself be injured, swell up, get bound up, and create pain while reducing communication with the central nervous system/brain. This phenomenon creates many of the common injuries that we all struggle with, even when we feel our pain is very local and specific. The coolest part about nerves, however, is that they are a powerful access point for stimulating, and creating change in, the systems to which they connect.
A client today shared a great metaphor when I explained how I was going to needle and stimulate her low back and sciatic nerve directly in order to help her hamstring and foot pain (the sciatic nerve affects both). She envisioned a Christmas tree with many lights, some of which were burned out. In this metaphor, the burnt out bulbs indicate areas of pain. Those bulbs are either dead or getting no power. When needling trigger points in specific muscles, it’s like replacing individual bulbs on the Christmas tree to restore power locally, which can reduce pain while improving function. This often works beautifully, assuming the wires are not damaged and the strand of lights is plugged in…
By treating the nerve, however, I’m able to trigger the repair of damaged wires. The nerve heals itself as a result of stimulating it with the needle and electricity. At the same time, stimulating the nerve “upstream”, or before it gets to the painful area, affects all the tissues it connect to. It’s like plugging in the tree so all the lights come on. There are times when replacing bulbs is necessary. But there are other times when you need to plug in the whole tree to bring it to life. When it comes to our injuries, both strategies are often necessary to reduce painful stimuli and restore normal function. Ultimately, her metaphor illustrates how sometimes the most effective way to power up the whole Christmas tree is to plug it in!
Video – Needling the femoral nerve (and thus the entire quad muscle) to treat kneecap pain.
Treating the spine and the nerves as they exit the spine and travel down the limbs is a powerful way to heal injuries in the arms and legs. Especially injuries that don’t respond well to other types of treatment or are chronic. I know you’re thinking that sticking a needle in a nerve must be very painful. Let me assure you (based on more experience than I’d like to admit) that, if inserted slowly, the needle often hurts much less in the nerve than in the muscle. And the sensation of stimulating the nerve can actually feel incredibly therapeutic, both during and after treatment. Needling nerves directly and stimulating them can often reduce or eliminate pain afterward. Please give me a call or visit me for a session if you’d like to learn more.
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