Dry needling is a treatment method which is rapidly sneaking into the artillery of Physiotherapists across the world, with terrific results.
Dry needling uses the same needles as traditional acupuncture, but is backed by a different philosophy. I have seen some amazing outcomes with the use of dry needling. It is important to note, however, that dry needling is best used in conjunction with thorough education about the injury, and a rehabilitation plan that covers exercise based recovery as appropriate.
What is dry needling used for?
Dry needling targets muscle tissue, and its nerve connections, so any conditions where muscle pain or tightness is an issue could potentially benefit. This may include such things as neck tension, headaches, back pain, tennis elbow, ITB friction syndrome, shoulder conditions or shin pain.
Dry needling is very safe for most people (it should not be used during pregnancy, or in a few other medical situations). The needles are very fine, and you barely feel them go in. Once the needle is in, people sometimes feel some aching; others feel not much at all. On occasion the needle may cause a small muscle twitch, which is a great sign that the needling will have a positive effect on relaxing the muscle.
Unlike the ‘set and forget’ approach of acupuncture, with dry needling the therapist does not leave the patient’s side. A needle is gently inserted, moved slightly, and then removed straight away. This is repeated a few times into the muscle or muscles in question.
How does dry needling work?
Dry needling targets trigger points in muscles. A trigger point is a hypersensitive region within a muscle (like those tender ‘knots’ or lumps that you can feel when you are stressed!). When the needle is inserted into the trigger point, it acts to ‘jump start’ the muscle and its nerve supply. This usually results in a reflex relaxation of the muscle.
In traditional acupuncture, the needles are not necessarily placed into trigger points, but rather points along energy channels in the body. These ‘meridians’ or energy channels follow the eastern philosophy, and are therefore not in regular anatomy texts. I am sure that acupuncture can be very helpful, but the specificity and science of dry needling suits my personal belief system better.
When do I feel better?
For the rest of the day after a dry needling session, your muscles can feel achy and tired, a bit like they have done a big workout at the gym. It is a good idea to drink plenty of water, and rest if tired. If you are used to the needling, it should be fine to continue your normal sport that day, but after your first time, you may choose to take a day off.
Some people feel better straight away, others feel better a day or two later, and some (only a few I hope) may not feel much change. If your condition is ongoing/chronic, regular dry needling may be an effective way of managing it. For most people a course of 3 to 6 treatments can make considerable changes in muscle tension. For the lucky ones, a single session will sort them out.
“But I’m scared of needles!”
If you are a needle phobe, you have two options. The first is to give dry needling a miss. There are other ways that a Physio can help with your condition. The other option is to give this ‘friendly needling’ a try. These needles are considerably smaller and gentler than the ‘wet’ needles (injections) that a Dr gives you. I have treated many needle phobics (by their own choice of course – I don’t strap them down and force them, dart board style!) and have still had some very good results.
So where do I go to get dry needling?
Many Physiotherapists are now trained in the use of dry needling, so all you need to do is ask. If the Physios Online Physiotherapists feel that you need dry needling to improve your injury, they will be sure to let you know.