The thought of having foreign metal objects inserted into your skin is not a pleasant one for most people.
However, if you are brave enough to step outside your comfort zone then dry needling can be very helpful in managing your aches and pains.
Before discussing the benefits of dry needling, we need to discern between two very similar but different modalities, acupuncture and dry needling.
Acupuncture has been practised for thousands of years in Eastern medicine.
Needles were originally made of stone, bamboo and even bone! Now they are made of stainless steel, and are so fine that you often won’t even feel the prick.
The placement of the needle is targeted along meridians of Qi (pronounced ‘chi’, this energy flows through our bodies).
In the practice of acupuncture multiple needles are often left in for more than 15 minutes at a time.
A whole range of sensations have been reported when receiving acupuncture, from a dull ache and warmth or a releasing feeling to euphoria.
Everyone can have a different experience, however the most common sensation seems to be the dull ache.
Dry needling utilises the same equipment with a more western approach. It is called “dry” and not wet because no fluid is passed to or from the body; there is no injection (like a vaccination) or withdrawal (a blood test).
The needles are used to break down trigger points in the body in order to achieve a muscular release.
This technique often requires less time as once the trigger point is released the needles are removed.
When the trigger point is deactivated you often feel an odd ‘twitch’ sensation.
Essentially, the twitch means bullseye!
What is a trigger point?
Dry needling utilises the same equipment with a more western approach.
You know that spot in your shoulder, or maybe in your neck or lower back, where the muscle feels all knotted up? That irritable little ball of tension is a trigger point.
If compressed they can even radiate pain to areas adjacent from the pressure.
These points have common patterns of referral.
So in summary, acupuncture works off body maps that have been carefully calculated over thousands of years, whereas dry needling is guided by the individual patient’s anatomy, and the examination performed by the practitioner.
Importantly, the needles used in either practice should be single use and disposed of in a sharps container. Combining this with the cleaning of skin with alcoholic swabs before treatment will reduce the risks of infection greatly.
Dry needling and/or acupuncture is seemingly becoming more popular in manual therapy. It is an effective (speaking only from personal experience) way of stimulating tissues that seem like they need that little bit of extra grunt.
It can help with treatment of most musculoskeletal injuries.
Muscular strains and joint sprains, pregnancy pain and headaches can all be eased by achieving these releases with needling.
It can be especially helpful with more resistant and nasty inflammatory conditions like tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, bursitis and Achilles tendonitis to name a few.
This is because one of the benefits of dry needling is thought to come from increasing blood flow. The needles can stimulate an increase of blood to the area which is needled.
This increase in blood flow means more nutrients necessary for healing will be delivered to the injury site.
It will also mean that the leftover waste from tissue healing is carried away from the damaged area.
Injuries which involve damage to tendons, such as listed before, can take a long time to heal because tendons do not get a great deal of blood flow when compared to structures such as muscles.
This may explain why that niggly tennis elbow has been hanging around for so long!
It is also why needling may be necessary to stimulate some extra blood supply.
The amount of sessions required to address your complaint will depend on a variety of factors.
Age, daily activities, how long you’ve had the issue and the injury itself should all play a part in developing an individualised treatment plan.
Some pains may be caused by a single point which needs to be released in just one session. More commonly it may be more complicated and require multiple sessions.
If you are considering having any needlework done for your injuries, ensure that you do drink plenty of water before and after the treatment.
It will help with the efficiency of the treatment as well as the recovery.
A side effect of the treatment can be some muscle soreness, potentially up to 24 to 48 hours is the normal range and is more common after your first time. Heat packs can ease some of this soreness.
If you’re having trouble with injuries that just won’t go away, maybe you should consider something new. If you open your mind to dry needling it may be just what your body needs to get it back on track.