Dry Needling: The most effective pain treatment you may never have heard of!

Dry needling is a type of acupuncture that has become very popular with physiotherapists in recent years in our treatment of injury and pain. Also known as Western Medical Acupuncture, Dry Needling differentiates itself from traditional acupuncture by being administered to soft tissue structures such as muscles and fascia (connective tissue) in order to stimulate the central and peripheral nervous systems. This results in the release of pain relieving substances within the body, which can desensitise painful structures as well as the loosening of excessively tight muscles, therefore restoring movement and function and facilitating a healing response. Dry needling is often used in conjunction with other treatment techniques as part of a treatment plan. This is different from traditional Chinese Medicine type Acupuncture which places needles along meridian lines and is based on a model of treating and restoring energy flow within the body.

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Why is it called Dry Needling and how does it work?

This was to differentiate it from the more traditional western medicine approach to treating painful muscles and joints that involved the use of a hypodermic needle to inject a medication such as a steroid solution.

Dry needling uses only a thin acupuncture-type needle to stimulate and deactivate myofascial trigger points, muscles and connective tissues. This can also have both diagnostic and treatment benefits whenever a practitioner is attempting to address problems in deeper muscles and structures that massage techniques cannot be effective at reaching.

Myofascial Trigger Points can be found to be causing pain in nearly every musculoskeletal pain problem. (Myo=Muscle; Fascia=Connective tissue - the term ‘myofascia’ describes that area). These trigger points present as hypersensitive localised muscle tenderness that can also cause prolonged ache in a more widespread area. They can arise from overloading and overuse of muscles and structures such as in sport or after trauma, or even while sitting with a poor posture with the example being pain to the neck or back. As well as pain, myofascial trigger points can cause weakness of the affected muscles and restrict range of movement, both which can contribute to other problems and compensations developing.

Generally as the needles used are so thin, a patient can often not even feel the needle being inserted. When dry needling is administered effectively to a myofascial trigger point the patient may experience a local twitch response from the muscle. This instantaneous involuntary contraction confirms the presence of a myofascial trigger point and the practitioner may stimulate this twitch response a number more times manually using the needle or via an electrical current from a TENS machine to successfully deactivate.

Results can often be instantaneous when assessing restricted ranges of movement in muscles and joints and your practitioner will often demonstrate this with before and after treatment testing.

After a dry needling treatment a patient may instantly experience improvement in their pain and dysfunction being treated however it is quite common to experience muscle soreness around the needle site for between 24-48 hours. This post treatment soreness, however, is comparable to what can be expected from most hands-on therapies such as deep tissue massage.

As dry needling is administered in a clinical environment by highly trained and regulated physiotherapists, it should be considered to be a very safe treatment option and your clinician will have taken every precaution to minimise risk of injury or infection from the needle. It would however not be advisable to try for anyone who suffers from a significant phobia of needles.

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Injuries and conditions to consider dry needling with:

  • Postural and work-related pain
  • Sports injuries affecting all muscles and joints
  • Muscle and Joint Tightness
  • Disc injuries
  • Migraines and Tension-Type Headaches
  • Tendon Injuries
  • Fibromyalgia and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome