Dry Needling is a manual therapy technique used by Myotherapists to help reduce pain and tension in muscles.
We've previously discussed the similarities and differences between Dry Needling and Acupuncture, but you may still be wondering - how does Dry Needling actually work?
The "Dry" Needle
The reason they are called "dry" needles is to differentiate them from hollow needles like the ones used for blood tests or vaccinations. A dry needle can't inject or withdraw fluids from your body.
The needles themselves are ultra thin and flexible. They come with a guide tube to allow us to place them with care and precision.
All needles used for dry needling are single use only.
Where We Apply It
Myotherapists use dry needling in painful, tight or restricted muscle groups. You may have heard about Trigger Points - those painful, tight bands that can form within a muscle over time, with repeated use or from injury. Dry needling is a technique that helps address these trigger point areas in a very specific and precise way.
We assess the areas through watching you move and through palpating the muscles to find the best spots within the muscle to position the needle to relieve the trigger point. We also assess the surrounding joints and muscles, for example for hip pain we may find that dry needling in your lower back or in your thigh can help relieve pain and strain from your hip.
What Happens When We Needle A Trigger Point?
When we first insert the needle to the muscle, it can be felt as a little pinprick sensation on the skin. We then guide the tip of the needle into the right angle and depth of the muscle to directly stimulate the trigger point. This takes some skill and the ability to visualise in 3D the target muscle and the surrounding tissue like nerves, veins, arteries, bones and ligaments.
By applying the needle into that trigger point, it causes a combination of chemical and electrical responses by the muscle. The micro damage causes by inserting the needle sends chemical messengers to the brain to get a healing response to occur. It can also cause a nerve impulse to occur, making the muscle twitch and release.
To Stimulate or Not To Stimulate
Because our aim in using dry needling is to get a change in the muscle tension, we often can stimulate the needle. This means we might gently move the needle in a pulsing in/out movement to repeatedly stimulate the trigger point, or we might twist the needle in a particular direction or in a series of back and forward movements.
Stimulation of the needle can lead to more twitching, what we call Local Twitch Response. Dry needling can be effective even without the involuntary muscle twitch response.
Some practitioners prefer a more intensive stimulation of the needles, however we prefer a gentle and slow approach.
Does Dry Needling Hurt?
In most cases, not really. Which is often surprising! The most common sensations you'll feel are the pinprick of the needle being positioned, a dull aching or tightening sensation around the needle, and the quick twitching response of the muscles releasing. The twitching can sometimes feel intense, but only lasts a very short time.
After needling, some people can experience a little localised soreness at the sites of the needles, but most people just feel relief from tension and pain in those areas.
Is Dry Needling Safe?
In the hands of a trained practitioner, dry needling is a safe and effective technique.
Myotherapists undergo many months of training and assessment in the skillful use of dry needling, however not all practitioners who offer dry needling are Myotherapists. Remedial Massage Therapists, Chiropractors, Physiotherapists, and other skilled practitioners can opt to undertake short courses in dry needling.
Here in the Simple Wellness Myotherapy clinic, we only allow our Myotherapists to use dry needling on our patients, and we strongly believe that a weekend short course is not enough time to develop the skills needed to use dry needling safely and effectively.
What Sort Of Pain Can Dry Needling Help Treat?
Dry needling is great for releasing tight trigger point areas all throughout the body. It can be effective in treating headaches, neck and shoulder pain, back pain, bursitis, pain from disc injuries, sports injuries, plantar fasciitis - so many things!
Want to try dry needling for your muscle pain? Book an appointment with one of our Myotherapists.
Mel is a Myotherapist based in Ferntree Gully.