Remember how I kept complaining about my leg and talking about this mysterious “IT band?” Well, it’s real. And I was diagnosed with ITBS, better known as IT band syndrome, which is a mythical disease. Doctors literally characterize it as pain localized to the IT band, or inflammation, or overuse. Which sounds very broad, if you ask me. But whatever, I’m not the doctor, I don’t have an M.D., so here is where I will resort back to my happy and convenient use of scholarly peer-reviewed research.
Friday, I was diagnosed with two strained hamstrings and one IT band with ITBS. Yeah, ouch. My sports medicine doctor suggested physical therapy, two times a week for six weeks, ice packs whenever necessary, and dry needling at physical therapy sessions. Yes. That means needles. His excuse for the physical therapist to poke and prod me falls under “rehabilitation” but it seems evil if you ask me.
So, on my own time, I looked into ITBS and its different treatment options, one being dry needling. Acupuncture by itself was created as a form of alternative medicine by traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s actually pseudoscience… meaning, it’s not convincing. Techniques vary depending on location, culture, and physician, and studies showing that it has any effect on pain, or any long-term effect in general, are inconsistent (Ernst, 2011). Many studies actually show that acupunctural benefits are placebo (Ernst, 2006). So basically any benefits are a figment of your imagination.
The reason dry needling is supposed to work is because it stimulates the myofascial trigger points. These are super irritable parts in the tissue surrounding skeletal muscle, and these are associated with numerous muscle or tissue injuries, including ITBS. Dry needling causes these trigger points to twitch (for all you bio nerds: rapid depolarization of the muscle fibers), thus causing spontaneous electrical activity or dysfunction (read: pain) to dramatically subside (Kalichman and Vulfsons, 2010). However, around 8% of all dry needling patients report adverse effects, which can include scary events like even worse pain and hematomas (Kalichman and Vulfsons, 2010). Further studies support the idea that dry needling can effectively treat ITBS by asserting that it decreases muscular stiffness and improve functional lengthening of the IT band (Falvey et al., 2009).
So if the critics at Rotten Tomatoes had to review acupuncture and dry needling, I think they’d give it a 50%. Reviews are mixed and research shows a lot of ambiguity. I’ll keep you guys updated on whether or not I actually see any kind of improvement with this treatment, what works, and what doesn’t.