Mission Rehab offers an alternative to narcotic pain-relief

By Galen Holley

Special to New Albany Gazette

On a famous episode of the sitcom, The Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden used the mantra, “Pins and needles, needles and pins,” to alleviate his psychological pain, and Jay Pullman and his staff at Mission Rehab in New Albany have taken that advice to heart—in a way.

“Neck and back pain, plantar fasciitis, headaches, TMJ, neuropathies—we treat a wide variety of ailments,” said Pullman, a physical therapist, who uses a process called dry needling to relieve patients’ maladies.

It involves sticking tiny needles into the patients’ skin.

“The procedure is based in identifying trigger points in the body, and encouraging neurological-vascular flow,” said Pullman.

Born in New York, Pullman moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1991. After Hurricane Katrina, he and his wife, Eydie, a behavioral health counselor, relocated to northeast Mississippi. The genesis of his clinic’s name derives from a mission trip Pullman made to Brazil.

When most people hear about the use of needles, they automatically think of acupuncture, but that’s not what Pullman is doing. As he explained, acupuncture, a form of alternative Chinese medicine, is based on the belief that a life force, called chi, flows throughout the body, and that harmonizing it, aligning the meridians, or focal points, brings healing.

Dry needling is a widely-used practice in Western medicine, and involves inserting a filament through the skin into the muscular connective tissues. It reduces inflammation and promotes muscular-skeletal healing. As compared to acupuncture, it’s based less on philosophy and more on physiology.

Timothy Ramsey has dealt with chronic pain most of his life. He had meningitis as an infant, and wore a leg brace growing up.

“I have bad muscle spasms, and my hand draws-up,” Ramsey said, above the calming, ambient sound of sea waves issuing from the speakers around the therapy room.

After a brief conversation, Pullman helped Ramsey roll onto his side, and with surgical precision, began inserting filaments into his left shoulder.

“They’re very compassionate here, and they take really good care of me,” said Ramsey.

Physical therapy tech Tashia Gilbert said that helping free people from their pain is a moving experience.

“We see many patients who simply don’t know what it’s like to live pain-free,” said Gilbert. “That look on their face, when they finally experience relief, is indescribable.”

In addition to dry needling, Pullman uses the techniques of hands-on manipulation, including passive motion activities, or moving a patient’s limbs to stimulate blood-flow and muscle movement, to maximize the healing effect.

Another important member of the staff, massage therapist Shannon Cox, performs deep-tissue massage, reflexology, and pre-natal massage.

“There are certain pressure points, on the hands and feet, and understanding and utilizing those improves circulation and overall wellbeing,” said Cox. “I just enjoy helping people, helping unlock the body’s natural, healing processes, for better health.”

In the landscape of pain management, where the opioid crises has dominated headlines, Pullman said that dry needling offers a safe, effective alternative.

“We want to get people off their meds, help heal their bodies, and bring overall better health and quality of life,” said Pullman. “In many cases, through these techniques, many patients are well within a visit or two. Recovery is pretty dramatic.”

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