Dry Needling – What is it and what does it do?

Dry Needling – What is it and what does it do?

Dry needling is similar to acupuncture in that it uses solid, small diameter needles to stimulate a tight muscle in an attempt to relax it.
Dry needling is most commonly used by inserting the needle into a trigger point in the muscle to help deactivate the trigger point, thereby reducing the pain and tightness in the muscle.

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What can I expect:

Usually you feel a quick pin prick as the needle enters the skin. Then depending on the area, you may experience either a sharp or a dull ache in the muscle or in the area the muscle refers to.
You may also experience a muscle twitch reaction to trigger point dry needling which feels like a cramping sensation.
It is important to needle the correct trigger points and to address the cause of the irritation, to successfully deactivate them to give you long term relief. If this is not done, the relief may be temporary.
After the needling, you may experience some post needling soreness. It is important to be aware that it is normal to feel muscle soreness for a day or so post treatment. You can use a heat pack and continue stretching if you experience soreness. Be careful not to over stretch the muscle.

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What do I need to do after dry needling?
You may be required t to stretch the muscle after dry needling. This is to encourage the muscle to lengthen and prevent it from tightening again. Stretching should be done to the point of discomfort and held for a minute at a time. Repeating the stretch 3-5 times is ideal.

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What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?
Acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine and uses the same filament needles as dry needling. It is based on the belief that health is defined by a balanced flow of chi- the vital energy of life. It is believed that chi circulates around the body along 12 major pathways, called Meridians. When a needle is inserted along these pathways, the flow of chi is thought to be redirected to help relieve stress and pain. Dry needling uses the same needles in a similar method, but the physiotherapist identifies muscular imbalances, such as tightness, and targets them to relieve pain. This is often used in conjunction with other physiotherapy management such as joint mobilization, massage and post needling stretches. There are several studies comparing the effectiveness between acupuncture and dry needling but often the results are inconclusive or sample sizes too small. There is evidence though to suggest that if used in conjunction with other therapies, dry needling is effective for the management of chronic low back pain.
In clinic, dry needling is often used for symptomatic relief of neck, back, shoulder and hip pain.

Written by Body Rhythm Physiotherapist Kornelia Molenda.
References:
Tough, E. A., White, A. R., Cummings, T. M., Richards, S. H., & Campbell, J. L. (2009). Acupuncture and dry needling in the management of myofascial trigger point pain: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomised controlled trials. European Journal of Pain, 13(1), 3-10.
Furlan, A. D., Van Tulder, M. W., Cherkin, D., Tsukayama, H., Lao, L., Koes, B. W., & Berman, B. M. (2005). Acupuncture and dry‐needling for low back pain. The Cochrane Library.