Pelicans treating Davis’ back spasms with dry needling

After a rash of injuries, the training staff of the New Orleans Pelicans might be one of the busiest in the NBA, especially now that they’re spending hours every day fighting to get Anthony Davis’ recurring back spasms under control. On the team’s recent road trip out West, trainers have used every opportunity to address Davis’ back, from treatment during plane rides to long soaks in hotel tubs.  

New Orleans’ training staff is relying on a variety of methods to address Davis’ back spasms: massage, heat therapy, stretching, as well as old school techniques such as soaking in Epsom salts and modern methods such as dry needling.

Dry needling is a Western method somewhat similar to acupuncture where trainers or doctors use a thin needle to pierce the trigger point of the pain multiple times – in this case the muscle in Davis’ back. That should trigger a “muscle twitch” which releases tension and pain.  Dry needling and acupuncture both rely on the use of a thin needle, but the philosophy behind the two procedures is different. Acupuncture dates back to ancient Chinese practices, while dry needling is based on modern neuro-anatomy science.

The dry needling seems to be having a positive impact: Davis succeeded in starting against the Portland Trailblazers and LaMarcus Aldridge Sunday, although he stretched out full length on the court to rest his back during breaks instead of sitting upright in a courtside chair. Davis also had to nurse his back through the matchup with heat packs strapped to his body when he wasn’t in the game.  

"It’s not a structural issue; he’s just dealing with spasms and soreness every day that he wakes up," head coach Monty Williams said. "He’s a lot better than he was. He would’ve been OK the last game, but he took that tumble into the crowd that messed him up. He could’ve finished the game, but I took him out. I just felt like it was time. Sometimes as much as I want to win, I have to think for them. But now as long as he’s structurally fine, we’re OK with playing him if he wants to play."

The spasms in Davis’ back stared when he went up for a jump shot last week: his back locked up and the spasms began. As far as the underlying cause, trainers say it could be a number of things from muscle fatigue, to the need for additional stretching,to the possibility that 21-year-old Davis could still be growing.