Have you heard the term ‘dry needling’ within an osteo or physio practice, or know someone who hasn’t stopped talking about it? Maybe you have even experienced it before without knowing much about it?
Dry needling is a commonly used technique here at Total Balance, and we get questions about it all the time. Here are some answers to the frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) which we get in the clinic:
What is Dry needling?
Dry needling is a safe and effective practice using acupuncture needles which are inserted in to skin and muscles around the body.
The practice of dry needling focuses on a phenomenon known as Myofascial Trigger Points (MTrP) – hyperirritable spots in skeletal muscle that are normally associated with palpable tenderness.
The insertion of needles into these trigger points within muscles around the body allows a release of chemical mediators and subsequent relaxation of the muscle. This can help decrease pain in the local region, as well as reducing muscle tension and increasing flexibility.
Other suggested mechanisms of dry needling’s effect include tissue remodelling following electrical polarization of muscle and connective tissue, and muscle regeneration following cell migration to the stimulated area, as well as stimulating blood flow to the region.
Is dry needling the same as acupuncture?
Dry needling is NOT the same as acupuncture. The only similarities between the two practices is that dry needling uses acupuncture needles.
As stated above, dry needling is said to work via Myofascial Trigger Points which, when stimulated with the needle, release chemicals which relax the muscle tissue.
Alternatively, acupuncture focuses on an energy form, known as Qi, which is said to flow from the body’s organs through channels known as meridians.
Dry needling and acupuncture are not only different in their approach, but are also indicated in different conditions, as summarised further below.
What are the main uses for dry needling? What are common conditions or muscles that it is used on?
As described above, dry needling is used to relieve muscle tension and improve range of motion in a variety of sites around the body. Dry needling can be useful in the treatment of most populations, and is fantastic for active/sports people, patients with fibromyalgia, or those with physical jobs.
Musculoskeletal conditions including neck and shoulder pain, sub-acromial impingement, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), cervicogenic headache, low back pain, shin splints and plantar fasciitis are commonly treated with dry needling technique.
Is dry needling painful?
For most people, the insertion of the needle is not (or barely) felt at all. You may feel the muscle being needled contract slightly, or you may feel a small muscle spasm known as a Local Twitch Response (LTR). This may feel like a cramp.
Generally, an LTR during the technique evokes a good therapeutic response in the muscle tissue – so if you experience this, it is doing exactly what we want it to do!
Is dry needling safe?
Dry needling is a very safe technique which we use in the clinic. However, as with any technique, there are precautions which must be undertaken to avoid serious complications. Side effects are only said to occur in an extremely small population (<0.01%). The most common and serious side effect is a pneumothorax (a lung collapse due to entry of air into the chest cavity).
That is why it is super important to only receive dry needling from an Allied Health practitioner with legitimate training who can mitigate risk of any complications. All of our osteopaths at Total Balance have undergone legitimate training in the practice of dry needling technique.
Will dry needling be suitable for me?
Dry needling can be performed on most populations safely. Relative contraindications to the practice include patients who may suffer from blood clotting disorders, vascular disease, compromised immune system, or patients who are pregnant. Extra care is taken in these situations if needling is undertaken, and specific areas of the body may be avoided altogether.
Dry needling does not have a regulatory or credentialing board, so there is often no way to determine if someone’s training is legitimate. If you do decide that dry needling would benefit you, make sure to find someone with postgraduate qualification in health care and further training in dry needling.
What should I expect after a dry needling session?
After your treatment you may experience some heaviness in the muscles which have been worked on. This muscle soreness generally lasts 24-48 hours.
You may also feel very relaxed and even a little lethargic post treatment. These effects will generally resolve after a few hours.
If you suffer symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain and pins and needles you should get in contact with your health practitioner as soon as possible.
Drinking plenty of water and gentle movement are the best ways to combat any mild effects following dry needling.
Written by Total Balance Osteopath, Dr. Dan East.
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DISCLAIMER: This blog post is an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.