Dry needling is a treatment method that has been used and developed for decades. Years of research have shown positive effects from the stimulus of a needle such as decreased pain and improved tissue inflammation. Dry needling has been shown to improve neck pain, headaches, and overall joint and muscle function throughout the body.

What Is Dry Needling?

It is a modern adaptation of traditional acupuncture using our current biomedical understanding and research evidence. Dry Needling makes use of sterile single-use solid stainless-steel needles. 'Dry' because no fluid is injected. The needle is inserted into muscle trigger points, ligament or tendon tissue to treat spasms, altered muscle control and pain.

Why Do We Dry Needle?

Dry needling is indicated if a patient is experiencing pain related to myofascial trigger points. Myofascial trigger points are irritable and palpable nodules within the muscles of the body. The goal of dry needling is to elicit a local twitch response, which has been shown to cause a decrease in inflammatory chemicals within the muscle. This can lead to benefits such as decreased pain and therefore better comfortable movement to match what is needed to function for day-to-day or for sports performance.

For sports people and the performing arts community, this can be especially useful. You are likely to have some inflammation through some of the muscles and structures in the body after exerting yourself on the pitch, track, course, pool or stage. Dry needling to the irritated structures can help with recovery, and get you back on the field feeling like yourself.

While dry needling can be useful for sports or artistic performance and recovery, it can benefit everyone. Dry needling can also be useful for everyday tasks where we don’t exert ourselves but can still experience pain, like seated work, for example. Its not uncommon to have neck pain from sitting and staring at screens for long periods of the day. The structures in the neck can become tight, and there are many tender trigger point areas in the neck. Dry needling these structures could make a real difference in somebody being able to get through their work day with less pain.

What Is The Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?

While they may look similar, the theory and approach differ greatly between acupuncture and dry needling. As mentioned earlier, dry needling is administered to myofascial trigger points and other structures like tendons and ligaments. They can be administered to people who suffer from both chronic and acute pain.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, is a treatment modality that stems from ancient Chinese medicine. The goal of acupuncture is to improve function related to blocked energy within the body. Acupuncture points differ from dry needling points, as acupuncture aims to influence structures like organs and alleviate different factors like overall mood and stress.

The technique majority of physiotherapists and osteopaths use is dry needling. At Peak MSK Physio, our aim is to get you back to feeling yourself physically. A physical examination of the area that’s impacting you, will determine whether dry needling will be beneficial for you.

What Are The Benefits Of Dry Needling?

The proposed benefits of dry needling have been studied extensively for decades. Studies have been able to demonstrate the impact of needle stimuli into trigger points through various tests. The results have demonstrated:

  • Dry needling can impact chemicals in the body. These chemical changes can lead to decreased pain in and around the area affected through autonomic and analgesic reflexes, enhancing mood, and reducing pain with anti-inflammatory and healing responses.
  • Dry needling has been shown to not only positively influence pain control but through functional MRI studies show increased motor system activation in the brain that promotes enhanced muscle activity and control.
  • Dry needling has been demonstrated to have a direct impact on the response of myofascial trigger points, reducing the acidity inside trigger points and therefore at the site of a muscular issue, improve the function of the muscle that is needled.
  • Research has shown dry needling to be effective for neck pain, migraines and chronic tension-type headache. This is a safe, long-lasting, cost-effective treatment with effectiveness to match preventative migraine medication.
  • Not only do muscles benefit. Dry needling has been proven to be also of use for treating joint pain with benefits lasting up to several weeks.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does dry needling hurt?

Most people find dry needling relatively painless. The rotation of the needle can cause an electric shock or pinching sensation. Most would say a deep tissue massage would be more painful.

How long are the needles in for?

The needles are usually left in for around 5-7 minutes. Sometimes it might be longer, but all needles will be removed by the end of the treatment session.

What if I don’t want to be dry needled?

If you don’t feel comfortable being dry needled, then you can absolutely say no. There will be another way for us to help you get better.

Will dry needling irritate my nerves?

Trained health professionals have a great understanding of anatomy which minimises the risk for hitting structures like nerves and arteries. It’s highly unlikely a skilled practitioner will go deep enough to risk hitting those structures.

Could dry needling make my pain worse?

As with any technique, there is potential for you to feel sore post-treatment and for some, a little drowsy. Your practitioner should make you aware of this before using any technique, whether it be dry needling or a massage.

Are there alternatives to dry needling?

A soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation or manipulation can be an alternate option to dry needling, as it can provide similar benefits. The goal is to get you feeling better, so we will utilise whatever treatments we can that you’re comfortable with to do so.

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* Conferred by Fellowship of the Australian College of Physiotherapists in 2010