Dry needling is the insertion of a thin needle in the skin to stimulate healing in soft tissues (fascia, ligaments, tendons, muscle “trigger points,” etc.), relieving pain and restoring the function of the injured or affected body part/s. It aims to get a twitch response so that soreness and tension in the muscle are released. This method is especially used when a patient is suffering from chronic pain that’s of a neuropathic cause. According to research, it also stabilizes the biochemical and electrical abnormality of motor endplates, and aids in faster recovery of the injured muscle.
The therapy is incomparable when it comes to seeking and getting rid of neuromuscular dysfunction that result in pain. Because the needle is very thin, most patients don’t even feel it as it’s being inserted in the skin; majority of these patients also haven’t complained of any kind of discomfort while the needle is in the skin. If the muscle is too sensitive or has active trigger points in the muscle, the patient will likely feel a kind of sensation that’s similar to a muscle cramp. This is called the twitch response. The goal is to “deactivate” the trigger point to lessen the pain and restore the normal function of the affected soft tissue.
Trigger Point – a myofascial trigger point is a skeletal muscle’s very irritable point that’s linked to a “knot” hypersensitive deep nodule. When it’s triggered, it becomes painful.
Dry Needle vs Acupuncture
Some may confuse dry needle therapy for acupuncture, a traditional Chinese treatment for various conditions that also involves insertion of needles, lightly touching trigger points to alleviate pain. Although it may appear that the two are one and the same, the philosophy and goals of dry needling, which was developed by physical therapists, was not based on ancient theories of the traditional Asian medicine. Rather, dry needling is based on Western neuroanatomy and modern scientific research of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. It seems they are the same because both methods make use of the same tool, which is a needle filament.
Which conditions can be treated with dry needling?
When combined with other treatments, such as physical therapy, it can show some great results. Here are some common conditions that can be treated with dry needling:
- Lower back pain
- Acute and chronic tendinitis – inflammation of a tendon (a thick cord that attaches muscle to bone)
- Whiplash (sudden distortion of the neck) and headaches
- Sports injuries
- Post-traumatic injuries
- Work-related injuries – carpal tunnel syndrome
- Post-surgical pain
- Chronic pain conditions
Also, people with muscle spasms, hip or knee pain, muscle strains, patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), sciatica, neck pain, and many other musculoskeletal injuries can also be treated with this method. If you are interested in getting this treatment for a condition that’s not mentioned here, seek advice from your medical professional.
When is Dry Needle Therapy Used by Therapists?
While dry needling can already be a powerful treatment alone, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s only one part of a set of other treatments to recover fully from specific conditions. As mentioned, physical therapy is usually paired with this treatment to relieve any biomechanical muscle imbalances, strength problems, muscular flexibility limitations, stiff and swollen joints, and postural dysfunctions.
In physical therapy, joint mobilization and advanced hands-on therapy methods are involved in the process. This aims to restore a patient’s physical function. For ailment such as the ones mentioned in the previous section, multidimensional treatment is vital to recover fully in a short span of time. If only one kind of treatment is used, it may provide only temporary relief or be ineffective altogether.
After the procedure, a patient may experience soreness and bruising in the treated area. The muscles on the affected area will be sore, since that’s where the needles are inserted. The pain is temporary. It will last between a few hours and a few days.
As soon as the session ends, a therapist may recommend using a cold compress or ice to reduce soreness. Stretching and other light physical exercises may also be advised to keep up the body’s strength. If the pain can’t be relieved by applying a cold compress, an over the counter analgesic or painkiller might be recommended.
Although you may experience great relief after just one session, it may take several sessions for complete or permanent recovery from your problem.