At our acupuncture clinic in Bedford, we practice a form of acupuncture called Myofascial Trigger Point Dry Needling (Dry Needling for short!) This is different from the traditional Chinese method. The ancient beliefs of ‘yin’, ‘yang’ and the energy ‘chi’ are substituted for a combined knowledge of physiology, pathology, anatomy and the common principals of evidence-based medicine.
Muscles can easily form trigger points (knots), especially if they’re stressed or strained from overwork. “Dry” refers to the fact that the previous method for treating trigger points was to inject them with a mild anaesthetic. A method which is still used but not a part of dry needling. There are many complex cellular interactions taking place when receiving this kind of treatment. When a needle is inserted into a trigger point, the muscle will elicit a twitch response. This causes the body to activate an immune response and increase blood flow to the area to encourage healing and decrease pain. The needles are single-use, hygienic surgical quality steel, the same as those used for acupuncture. The gauge and length of the needles may vary, typically they are between 25-75mm long and 0.25mm thick. By comparison, a human hair is about 0.1mm thick.
Dry needling is not the same as Acupuncture despite one being developed from the other. Acupuncture is based upon Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), while dry needling is based upon western medicine. Traditional Chinese acupuncture uses needles to encourage or inhibit the flow of energy through the meridians, while sports therapists use dry needling to release tight muscles. With acupuncture, the needles go into the meridian pathways, while with dry needling the needles are used to stimulate trigger a point within a painful muscle. Dry needling often evokes a localised twitch response that helps decrease muscle contraction, improve flexibility and decrease pain.
Dry Needling helps problematic muscles to reconnect with the brain and stimulate your body’s natural pain-killing chemicals (endorphins). It has been shown to be particularly effective in treating relentless muscular problems and can also be quite relaxing.
Such use of a solid needle has been found to be as effective as the injection method in such cases as relief of pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons. Analgesia produced by needling a pain spot is called the ‘needle effect’. Acupuncture and dry needling techniques are similar, but their rationale and use in treatment are different.
Dry needling can help many chronic and acute conditions. This includes conditions where manual physical therapy techniques haven’t reduced pain sufficiently. Dry needling can help treat many diagnoses including, but not limited to, chronic neck and back pain, headaches, and overuse injuries. Overuse injuries include tendinitis of the rotator cuff, tennis elbow, runner’s knee, etc.
While dry needling can benefit many, there are some who are not good candidates. This includes those with needle phobia or who have a history of an abnormal reaction to an injection. Those with lymphedema or who are in their first trimester of pregnancy may not be ideal candidates either. Dry needling is not for those with unmanaged blood-clotting or immune-system disorders. Always check with your doctor or therapist if you have concerns. Trigger points are often the result of lack of mobility of a joint, muscular weakness, repetitive stress and/or improper movement patterns. They are the “effect.” In order to restore normal function, we must treat the “cause.” Dry needling is just one tool a therapist may use in your treatment plan to achieve this goal.