What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a technique used to relieve pain in certain parts of the body. Often referred to as Intramuscular Stimulation or Myofascial Trigger Point Dry Needling, the process involves the insertion of needles around muscle knots. Technically, these muscle knots are known as myofascial trigger points. They can be very sore to touch, and may also present a lump.

Dry needling essentially releases the tightness in the muscles, and also encourages blood flow to the area. When done correctly, dry needling is very effective for pain relief and the release of muscle tension.

You may not be aware that dry needling has actually been around for a long time, since the 1940’s. Like most forms of pain treatment though, it’s only become popular in recent times as people understood more about the benefits. While it isn’t technically a medical procedure, and shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for other forms of treatment, it is still a great way to speed up recovery from injuries and treat pain.

The needles used in dry needling are similar to those used in acupuncture. Most practitioners use either solid filiform needles or hollow-core hypodermic needles. It’s particularly popular when treating sports injuries, or pain associated with surgery. When people persist with pain, particularly from myofascial trigger points and muscle injuries, long-term tissue damage becomes an issue. Dry needling helps to decrease the risk of such damage.

Is dry needling the same as acupuncture?

Dry needling is certainly similar to acupuncture, but it’s quite a different technique. In traditional Chinese acupuncture, the goal is to increase energy flow throughout the body. That’s why an acupuncture session usually involves the insertion of needles all over the body. Acupuncturists also need to complete a 4-year degree, because they need a strong knowledge of anatomy.

On the other hand, dry needling is a newer technique, and certification can be gained through a 16-hour course. That’s not to say dry needling is any more or less effective than acupuncture though. Dry needling also differs in the way the technique is actually performed. While acupuncture focuses on the whole body, dry needling targets specific muscles and trigger points.

The needles are very thin, but they’re inserted deep into the areas around a muscle knot. This causes the muscle to twitch, and tension is relieved. In acupuncture, the needles are different and not inserted as deep into the tissue.

What are some dry needling benefits?

There are several reported benefits of dry needling. Most importantly, it’s about pain relief, but there are additional benefits also. Because it’s a very targeted technique, dry needling treats a range of different injuries and conditions. It also works very well in conjunction with other treatment methods such as physiotherapy.

Treatment of muscle pain

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, dry needling offers pain relief. It works best when a patient has muscle knots, or myofascial trigger points directly causing them pain. The needles are inserted into the tissue, causing a twitch. This is basically the muscle contracting and releasing quickly, a process which offers almost instant pain relief.

Often, people with sedentary lifestyles develop these muscle knots which can be extremely painful. Dry needling gives relief from that pain, and also helps to prevent further tissue damage by leaving the problem untreated.

Increased range of motion

Muscle stiffness and tightness often makes people feel extremely inflexible. When your muscles are tight, it feels painful to move them or stretch them too far. While everybody has different levels of flexibility, those with muscle stiffness often run into further problems. Naturally, if a particular movement causes you pain, you’ll avoid it. The problem with this is the muscles don’t work, and ultimately become weaker as well as tight. 

Dry needling helps to relieve muscle tension, therefore making certain movements more comfortable. This increases flexibility and allows people to use muscles more freely. With this additional flexibility comes the ability to move more regularly, hence avoiding tissue damage caused by lack of use.

Relief from referred pain

Many physiotherapists also use dry needling to treat referred pain. That is, pain you feel in one part of your body when the origin of the pain is somewhere else. This is extremely common with neck pain. You can massage your neck and try all manner of other treatments, but the muscle stiffness and pain still remains. That’s because the actual injury or muscle knot might be in your shoulder or back. Everything is connected, so referred pain is a common condition. People with chronic back pain will know all about this, because the issues in their back often cause referred pain all through their legs.

By treating the actual origin of the pain, dry needling is effective in reducing pain in other parts of the body. This has the added benefit of giving people back a wider range of movement.

Recovery from injuries

When you’re recovering from an injury, it can be frustrating to wait. Often, the time it takes to recover is because muscle tissue function is still returning. Dry needling helps to increase blood flow to an injured muscle, which speeds up the recovery. That’s one of the reasons dry needling is effective in restoring normal tissue function. 

Anybody who has experienced a painful muscle injury will also know that pain doesn’t disappear just because the muscle is healing. It can still be painful for a long time. So, with the added benefits of pain relief, dry needling is a great way to get through your recovery period.

Is dry needling safe?

Dry needling is a very safe procedure, however we don’t suggest you just start sticking needles into injured muscles and painful areas. There aren’t any known side-effects to dry needling, but patients will be sore for a day or two after treatment. This is nothing to be concerned about, and is similar to most forms of pain treatment.

While the practice is safe, we still always recommend that you only seek dry needling treatment from qualified professionals. It’s important that stringent hygiene practices are followed, which is why a reputable physiotherapist is your best option for dry needling.

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