Dry needling is a form of therapy used to relieve pain and decrease muscle tension. Dry needling has been used in practice for over 60 years but has gained increasing popularity over the past couple of decades due to its efficacy and low risk. Dry needling involves the insertion of tiny filiform needles into muscular trigger points (commonly known as muscle knots). Muscular trigger points are taut bands in muscles that are sources of pain. The pain is usually felt upon compression to the trigger point and may be experienced locally or may refer pain to a distant location.
During dry needling your physiotherapist will locate muscular trigger points that are contributing to your pain and symptoms. The skin is cleaned and a sterile, strong but very tiny, very thin needle is placed into the trigger point. When the needle is inserted into the trigger point it will cause a twitch response in the muscle to relieve the taut band and reduce pain. The depth the needle is inserted depends on the size of the muscle and location of the trigger point. Once the needle is inserted your therapist may choose to leave it still for a couple of minutes or your therapist may choose a more dynamic action to help disrupt the underlying tension. Typically the needle is inserted for 30secs to about to 3mins.
Dry needling is not the same thing as acupuncture, although similar. Traditional Chinese Acupuncture is based off of principals to improve the flow and quality of Qi (a vital energy in the body) to meridians (networks of channels in the body) through the insertion of a needle into various acupoints (locations of specific pain receptors) throughout the body. Acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of symptoms that are non-musculoskeletal in nature such as fertility. Dry needling on the other hand is used to treat musculoskeletal symptoms inserting tiny needles into muscle trigger points to release or inhibit the trigger point effectively reducing pain.
Dry needling is commonly recommended as a treatment option for the following:
- Chronic back pain
- Tennis elbow
- Rotator Cuff tendinopathy and tears
- Patellafemoral pain
- Arthritis pain
- Impingement symptoms
- Calf pain
- Poor posture
Dry needling is best used as an adjunct to other forms of treatment such as massage and exercise. If you think dry needling may help improve your symptoms speak to your health care provider, it is not suitable for everyone.