Here’s Everything You Need To Know.
You’ve probably heard about ‘dry needling’ if you’ve seen a physiotherapist. ‘Dry needling’ has been around since the 1940s but is based on the 3000-year-old ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture.
Some of our physios at Hawthorn Physiotherapy incorporate dry needling into their treatment to help patients overcome pains and aches. While some tout it as a miracle treatment, others seek it as a form of pain relief. The article below will cover everything you need about dry needling.
What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a treatment delivered by health practitioners, such as physiotherapists. Its intended purpose is to help relieve pain and tightness.
It’s best to get a physical assessment to determine whether it might be able to help you. Rarely will we recommend dry needling in isolation. While deemed a helpful tool, it cannot replace your essentials, like exercise and healthy habits.
The process of dry needling involves placing disposable sterile stainless steel needles around the trigger points found on the body. Trigger points are areas of tight muscles or specific spots where your pain might be stemming from. These points can be determined after a thorough assessment and diagnosis from your physiotherapist.
Once the needle has been inserted into the area, it will stay there for a short period. After removal, it can take anywhere between a few seconds to hours before you feel relief. To reiterate, dry needling is usually only part of the treatment. Other treatments, such as soft tissue massage and exercise, are also used to maximise outcomes.
How does Dry Needling Work?
Although dry needling can be effective, we have yet to know exactly how it works. However, research has several suggestions, including:
- Loosening up myofascial trigger points (also known as knots) by helping decrease a build-up of chemicals called acetylcholine . Acetylcholine is naturally found in the body and is responsible for muscle contractions. A build of this chemical leads to the over-contraction of these muscles, leading to what we know as knots. Reducing acetylcholine build-up in our muscles can help relax these areas.
- Improving blood flow and oxygen delivery to trigger points assist recovery .
- Reducing or blocking the pain signals that start at the source of the pain that travels to the brain .
Does Dry Needling Hurt?
Generally, dry needling is tolerable, although there may be a bit of discomfort initially. You may feel the dry needle is inserted into the targeted area. However, this sensation should slowly wear away. If you are feeling sharp pain or soreness, let your physiotherapist know. Some regions may be too sensitive and not ready for dry needling for now.
What does Dry Needling Help With?
Dry needling can be used to provide immediate relief in numerous conditions. Example include:
- Nerve pain
- Lower back pain
- Neck pain
- Soft tissue conditions and injuries (e.g. strains, muscular tightness, etc.)
- Muscle guarding
- Knots and tight muscles
- Painful flare-ups of long-term conditions (e.g. osteoarthritis, lower back pain, etc.)
- Shoulder pain
- Neck-related headaches and migraines
- Tennis Elbow
Is Dry Needling Safe?
Dry needling is a very safe and non-invasive procedure. Our physiotherapists have been trained to deliver treatment in a calculated and controlled manner. Assessments will always be performed before administering the needle. Side-effects are rare and often minor. The most common side effects are temporary discomfort over the injection site, bruising and minimal bleeding.
More significant side effects occur less than 0.1% of the time . The risks of these side effects can be reduced through safe practices, being hygienic, therapist experience and choosing the right treatment areas. Examples of these include infection, allergic reactions, excessive bleeding and pneumothorax.
If you are seeking dry needling, please let us know if these circumstances may be relevant:
- You are pregnant or trying to conceive
- You are allergic to metals
- You are taking blood thinners (e.g. warfarin, etc.)
- You are scared of needles or have had negative reactions previously.
Your physiotherapist will assess the risks and decide whether the procedure is safe to proceed.
Potential Side Effects
Your physiotherapist has been trained in the safe and effective use of dry needling, meaning when the technique is performed correctly, the majority will suffer no side effects. However, some to be aware of are:
- Drowsiness, fatigue and sleepiness
- Small amounts of bleeding or bruising
- Post-treatment pain
- Vasovagal episodes (fainting)
- Muscle ache (around treatment area)
Is there a Difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?
This is arguably one of the most common questions that we get! Yes, there is a difference between the two. Let’s start with the similarities.
- Using disposable and sterile stainless steel dry needles for treatments
- Both treatments help relieve pains and aches.
- Practitioners will usually conduct an assessment before these treatments.
- Specific triggers or myofascial points are targeted on the body
- The location of where dry needling is placed is based on Western Medicine, through the principles of anatomy and physiology. In comparison, acupuncture is a therapy of ancient Chinese Medicine that involves the needling of specific areas of the body called Meridians.
- Dry needling is usually just a part of a session. Our physiotherapists will typically incorporate other treatments to help your recovery, including exercise, lifestyle strategies, massage and electrotherapy.
- Dry needling is generally tailored for each patient, following a specific diagnosis, accompanied by clinical findings of taut muscle bands and focal trigger points.
It is important to remember that dry needling is not a miracle cure, and it will only make up one aspect of your overall rehabilitation. For optimal recovery, you must follow the guidance of your physiotherapist and comply with all prescribed exercises. If you have any further queries regarding dry needling, please feel free to direct all questions to your therapist.
If you suffer from any of the conditions listed above and would like to try dry needling to see if it’s helpful for you, simply give our reception team a call on 03 98192827. They will book you an appointment with one of our physiotherapists who can incorporate dry needling into your treatment.