What is Dry Needling?

For anyone that knows me, or has had treatment from me will know that I’m a big advocate of dry needling. I like it so much that I often needle myself to help with little niggles that I pick up from work and training.

Dry needling can work wonders with many conditions that walk through my door, from headaches to tight calves, chronic tendon problems and acute swollen joints. It’s by no means the answer to everything as a stand-alone treatment but when used in conjunction with other therapies such as corrective exercise & mobility work it can be a very useful technique.

Many people are willing to give anything a go, but for many needling can be a bit scary so maybe understanding how and why we use needling can be helpful in making an informed decision.

What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?

dry-needle-locations
Trigger point referral patterns

Dry Needling utilizes an extremely fine needle, exactly the same as those used in traditional Chinese acupuncture. The main difference between these two techniques comes down to the theory behind where and why. Traditional acupuncture looks at the body as a map of meridians. A practitioner of Chinese medicine uses these energy systems and works with the ‘flow of qi’ to address pain and dysfunction. Dry needling targets overactive areas within a muscle known as trigger points or knots.

Trigger Points are hypersensitive areas that form in a muscle. They are usually tender to the touch and can also refer pain upstream or downstream within a muscle as demonstrated in image (x marks the trigger point, red marks the pain referral area)
How does dry needling work?

Dry needling has several uses depending on the particular condition being treated.

As mentioned above it is a useful took to target trigger points within a muscle. The needles do this by ‘re-setting’ the ion channels within a muscle. Normally free movement of ions in and out of these channels is what allows a muscle to contract and relax. When tight bands form in a muscle these channels get blocked causing a build-up of ions essentially creating a ‘chemical pool’. This is why these areas often feel so tender! Studies show that when these areas are needled and a ‘twitch response’ is observed, it’s kind of like hitting the re-set button, stimulating the release of our bodies natural pain relieving chemicals. This bio-mechanical change within the muscle can assist with pain modulation and help to restore correct muscle function.

Unfortunately this can come with a small downside. Post needling soreness can be common, especially when several twitch responses are observed in the treatment area. This soreness, often described as heaviness’ or a tenderness can be felt for several hours following a session.

Needling has a few other benefits:

  • Stimulation of the circulatory system to assist with reduction of swelling from an acutely injured or swollen joint. (eg sprained ankle)
  • Improved blood flow to damaged tissue. Fresh blood brings all the properties of healing along with which can assist with the healing response. (eg Achilles Tendinosis)
  • Chronic pain modulation through release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain relieving substance, and other neurotransmitters from the brain such as serotonin which have associated health benefits.
  • Headaches. Needling of the sub-occipital muscles at the base of the skull can be a very effective way to treat headaches.

Who can have dry needling?

All patients are screened thoroughly before dry needling is used as a treatment method. Some of the precautions and contraindications include:

  • Pregnancy – caution is used when needling certain areas and especially in the first trimester.
  • Anticoagulant medication eg warfarin, clexane
  • Blood borne diseases eg HIV
  • Bleeding disorders eg haemophilia
  • Confused or frail patients
  • Patients with increased risk of infection eg artificial joint replacement, diabetics

There are a few minor risks and side effects with dry needling which will be discussed with you by your treating practitioner. Some include minor bruising or bleeding, drowsiness, fatigue and/or nausea following treatment.

In my experience using dry needling in combination with other forms of treatment including myofascial and active soft tissue releases (massage) and appropriate rehabilitation can successfully treat a lot of the injuries we see on a daily basis.

Keen to give it a go?

Make an appointment at ACTIVE RX today.

Alternatively if you would like more information feel free to email us – activerxphysio@gmail.com