What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling vs Chinese acupuncture… whilst these two techniques use the same needles they are in fact very different. Acupuncture is all about the yin and the yang, energy, and the needles are left in the body for quite some time. Dry needling is purely putting needles in muscles to try to relax them! This is done slowly, manipulated gently, and then removed after a very short period.

When is Dry Needling used?

Dry needling can be used to treat a number of musculoskeletal complaints. Basically we just insert the needles into tight muscles or trigger points with the aim to get them to relax and restore them to “normal.”

I never treat a patient purely with dry needling, but with some conditions it works really well in conjunction with other treatment such as massage and stretching.

Common areas I would use dry needling include:

  • Necks
  • Backs
  • Rotator cuff (shoulder)
  • Hamstrings
  • ITB’s

Dry Needling and Trigger points

Dry needling works to relieve pain caused by the dysfunction of trigger points. So what are trigger points?? Trigger points are tight or taut bands of muscle that are caused by damage to the muscle.

What causes trigger points?

This damage can be caused by a number of factors:

  • Strain
  • Overuse
  • Emotional distress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor posture
  • Lack of exercise
  • Exposure to cold temperatures
  • Trauma

Trigger points are interesting in the fact that they can cause pain and create dysfunction in other parts of the body away from where they are actually located. You might wonder why your physio is sticking needles in or poking around in a spot different to where your pain is, and this is often why.

Trigger point treatment

The most common trigger point I would treat is the infraspinatus trigger point. It is a muscle that lies over the top of your shoulder blade (at the back of your shoulder). Now while this trigger point actually sits at the back of your shoulder, it can refer pain down to the upper arm and back of the arm.

Before commencing treatment I make sure the patient gives full consent, is not on an blood thinning treatment, aspirin or is pregnant (if treatment is around uterus).

This process involves me firstly locating the trigger point by feel (it feels like hard ropey lump). I can also tell once I have found a trigger point by a jump sign from patient e.g. “ah shit” or some other expletive. I then insert the needle into the trigger point with the aim to get it to relax. This can be done with a number of techniques including twisting, plucking or probing the needle. This all sounds a bit barbaric but it is relatively painless and most patients just love it.

We hope to create a “twitch response” which feels bit like a muscle cramp. This is a good sign in that the muscle is now having a healing response to the stimulus we have created. This should then relieve the tension and enable the muscle to start to function normally again.

A lot of patients will have immediate relief of muscle tension and ability to move more freely after dry needling. It can take up to a day or two to feel the full benefits. Most patients find after several sessions they have a lasting benefit.

Let know know if you have ever received dry needling as a treatment and how your body responded!!


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