We often get a lot of questions about Dry Needling. “Does it hurt” and “how is it different than acupuncture” are probably the most common. In today’s blog, Matthew tries to answer all your burning questions and more…

What is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling is a treatment technique used by many physiotherapists, where very fine acupuncture needles are inserted through the skin and into the muscle tissue below. They are most commonly placed into points in the muscle referred to as trigger points. A trigger point is a hyperirritable spot, like a knot, located in muscle, that commonly refers pain out away from the painful spot.

Conditions that Dry Needling is commonly used to treat include:

How does Dry Needling work?

The exact mechanism of how Dry Needling works is complex and still not fully understood. There are two main theories about how Dry Needling works.

One theory is based around the Reflex Arc. Sometimes if intense or persistant pain occurs, motor neurons get stuck in a feedback loop, resulting in muscle spasms. It is theorised that introducing a new stimulus, in the form of a dry needle, interrupts this reflex arc, allowing the muscle to relax.

The second theory discusses how muscular trigger points will continue to spasm and cause pain. Inserting a dry needle into a muscle, causes a micro-trauma that increases blood flow and alters the chemical balance in the muscle, assisting with muscle relaxation and releasing potential trigger points present.

The stimulation of pain receptors also causes the body to release the body’s natural opioids (e.g. endorphins). These natural pain relievers in your brain, once released, provide you with further pain relief at the site of your pain or injury.

How is Dry Needling different to Acupuncture?

Acupuncture generally refers to the traditional Chinese medicine which is based on stimulating the flow of chi (energy) through the meridians of the body. Dry Needling targets muscles and is based on traditional, western medicine principles. Often people will still incorrectly use the term Acupuncture when referring to Dry Needling.

What will I feel during my Dry Needling session?

The needle is normally not felt when inserted, however there may be a slight prick or muscle spasm. Some muscles tend to be more sensitive than others.

While the needle is sitting in the tissue there can be a local twitch response, often described as a quick electric shock or cramping sensation lasting only a second or two.

Generally you will not feel it when the needle is removed. It is possible to feel sore at the site of insertion for 24-48 hrs after the treatment session. This is not dissimilar though to many other forms of manual therapy!

Is Dry Needling safe?

Dry Needling is a very safe treatment when performed by a trained physiotherapist using sterile, single-use needles in a clean environment. It is possible for there to be a small spot of bleeding at the insertion site. This is normal and usually stops within seconds.

Dry Needling can potentially become unsafe if your medical history is not fully disclosed. This is why your physiotherapist will do a thorough examination prior to commencing your treatment.

So who can’t have Dry Needling?

Like other forms of treatment, their are some medical conditions that may exclude you from being able to receive Dry Needling. Below is a list of typical conditions or issues that may exclude you from this treatment:

  • patients with a needle phobia
  • unable to give consent
  • bleeding or vascular disorders
  • diabetes
  • pregnancy
  • epilepsy
  • frail patients
  • children
  • patients on blood thinners
  • cancer
  • acute immune disorders
  • blood-borne disease
  • incompetent heart valve or valve replacement
  • recent surgery

So if you have tried other forms of manual therapy without success, consider giving Dry Needling a go. Whether it be for an acute or chronic condition, if it’s going to work for you, improvements are normally seen within 3 to 5 treatments.

Matthew has completed further study and is fully qualified to perform Dry Needling. If you require more information, please contact Revive Physiotherapy and Pilates to make an appointment today.