Dry Needling: How Does Dry Needling Work

What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is the application of a fine calibre needle through the skin and into the underlying fascia, muscle tissue and myofascial trigger points. 

The needles are single-use only, meaning they are sterile and are discarded immediately after use.

What is a myofascial trigger point?

In simple terms, myofascial trigger points are the ‘knots’ that you may feel in your muscles. 

In technical terms, a ‘knot’ is a group of muscle fibres that have shortened and then not been able to sufficiently lengthen back to their relaxed state.

This lack of lengthening forms a nodule, which can restrict the normal flow of fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients.

As the muscle is unable to move normally and obtain fresh blood and nutrients, it is unable to flush out unwanted chemicals which can result in pain. 

A myofascial trigger point in a muscle can cause pain, discomfort, weakness or a feeling of tightness.

Having a trigger point can also cause a restriction of movement in a joint (for example a trigger point in your upper trapezius fibres can cause restriction in the movement of your neck).

What causes a trigger point?

A trigger point can develop for many reasons, some of these include;

  • Injury – which causes a shortening or tightening of muscle fibres.
  • Sustained postures – e.g. sitting slouched at a computer desk for long hours at work or during study.
  • Overuse of a muscle – caused by a rapid increase in load to a muscle group.
  • Quick unexpected movements – e.g. quickly turning your head one way and feeling a sudden tightness or grabbing pain.
  • Stress – can cause tightening of different muscle groups (especially in the neck and shoulders).
  • Nerve impingement – the muscles around a nerve tighten to protect the it.

What is the difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?

The application of Acupuncture and Dry Needling is the same, however the philosophy is quite different. 

While dry needling is conducted by physiotherapists, podiatrists and some massage therapists, acupuncture is applied by an acupuncturist.

The main difference between the two is that Dry Needling (as mentioned above) aims to reduce pain and restore movement by targeting myofascial trigger points, while Acupuncture aims to restore the body’s energy flow (‘Qi’ – pronounced Chi).

With Acupuncture, the fine calibre needles are inserted into pre-determined points on the body, whereas Dry Needling is inserted into who your physiotherapist palpates trigger points or tightness (this can be quite different between patients).


How does Dry Needling work?

The needle (and yes, its super thin! And no, it’s not like an injection!) is inserted into or around trigger points in the muscle, which assists with reducing tightness and helping your muscles to relax.

The needle, when placed directly in a trigger point can release that trigger point and result in a reduction of pain and an increase in mobility of that muscle or associated joint. 

When the fine needle in inserted into the trigger point, blood pools around the needle. This floods the area with oxygen and fresh nutrients, while flushing away any nasty chemicals.

This action helps restore the muscles ability to appropriately lengthen, shorten and function without pain.

What is it going to feel like? Is it going to hurt?

No! But, it depends on what you consider as pain!

When the needle enters your skin, you may feel a small pin prick, but at no time should it feel very sharp or like a stabbing type pain. 

Instead, it can feel like a dull, heavy sensation. You may feel twitches in the muscle (this is normal!) as your physiotherapist manipulates (well, wiggles) the needle. 

Twitches can sometimes give a small amount of discomfort, but this should very quickly settle. 

You may feel sore after dry needling (even up to 48 hours later), and often it will feel like a bruising type of pain. 

Sometimes you may end up with a bruise, but this is nothing to worry about.

What conditions or injuries can it help with?

The great news is that dry needling can be used for many injuries and conditions. Some of these conditions include;

  • Neck and back pain
  • Headaches
  • Postural pain
  • Sciatica
  • Tennis elbow
  • Plantar Fasciitis 
  • Hip and Shoulder Bursitis
  • Arthritis
  • Shoulder pain
  • Knee pain
  • Rotator Cuff symptoms

Speak with your physiotherapist about Dry Needling.

They can discuss the benefits and risks involved and work with you to determine if it is a beneficial treatment for you and your specific condition. 

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