Dry Needling is an invasive procedure in which a sterile, single use, fine needle is inserted into your skin and muscle. The needle will be aimed at a myofascial trigger point.
What is a myofascial trigger point?
A myofascial trigger point is a group of muscle fibres in a particular muscle that have shortened, and aren’t able to lengthen to their relaxed state. This results in a hypersensitive palpable nodule in the muscle. The nodule can cause weakness, tightness and pain in the affected muscle, as well as referred pain to other parts of the body. It can also result in joint stiffness and decreased co-ordination.
How does dry needling work?
Once the needle is inserted into the myofascial trigger point, a number of physiological changes occur. Some blood collects around the needle inside the muscle, supplying the targeted muscle with oxygen and nutrients as well as flushing away pain producing and other acidic chemicals. The needle also gives a localised stretch to the muscle fibres in that area. This will help decrease pain as well as restore the muscles natural ability to lengthen and shorten appropriately.
What are the benefits of dry needling?
Dry needling can assist with the following:
- Help release myofascial trigger points.
- Decrease pain.
- Improve muscle function and strength.
- Improve joint mobility.
- Decrease scar tissue.
What should I expect when being dry needled?
Your physiotherapist will palpate your muscle for trigger points. They will then decide if they feel that dry needling is a suitable tool to use for treatment. They will ask you for your consent to use a needle – verbal and written. Once consent is obtained they will continue with the needling technique.
When the needle is inserted into your muscle you might feel a pressure or pinch in that area. Once the needle enters the trigger point you will feel a twitch in your muscle – this is called a localised twitch response and is a good indication that your physiotherapist has hit the targeted trigger point. You will then feel a localised or referred aching pain in the muscle. Your physiotherapist will either leave the needle in or start moving the needle around to try and target a wider surface area of the muscle if they feel that it is indicated. Once complete, they will remove the needle and discard of it.
Is dry needling safe?
Just like all other forms of treatments, dry needling can carry an associated risk. Your physiotherapist will explain these risks to you before the needling procedure and assess whether dry needling is suitable for you based on your injury and overall health. Side effects such as bruising, nausea, decreased energy levels and residual pain is common with dry needling and will often resolve after 24 hours.
Are dry needling and acupuncture the same thing?
Acupuncture is a medical practice rooted in traditional Chinese medicine that entails stimulating certain points on the body to balance your body’s energy flow, or ‘Chi’.
Dry needling is a modern technique used by qualified practitioners that follows evidence based guidelines and specific trigger point locations to help alleviate trigger points and muscle tension.
What does the research say?
A literature review conducted by James Dunning, et. al in 2014 showed that several studies have demonstrated immediate or short-term improvements in pain and/or disability by targeting trigger points using dry needling techniques. More research needs to be done on the long term effects of dry needling.