What is dry needling?
When a muscle is injured, “micro-cramps” may develop. Although the outward appearance of the muscle is the same, these tiny spasms prevent the muscle from fully relaxing. The muscle is effectively shortened. When the muscle is stretched this can give a continuous ache and pain.
During movement some muscles are contracting while others are stretching, both are essential during movement. Loss of muscle stretching leads to loss of joint movement.
Micro-cramps or trigger points tend to develop in the same sites for people, which is why it is possible for the clinican to locate them so rapidly. The type of muscular injury involving the formation of trigger points is known as myofascial pain and can last for months, for many years causing pain, restricted movement and misery.
The pain can vary in intensity from being relatively mild to being very severe. It does not respond to ordinary pain killers or anti-inflammatories drugs. The injury may produce referred pain in an area distant to the trigger point. Shoulder pain is usually felt to the side or the front of the shoulder although the injury may be in the muscle overlying the shoulder blade.
In the technique known as dry needling, and accuptunture needle is inserted through the skin and moved gently back and forwards through the trigger point. The effect is to de-activate the trigger point and relax the muscle.
Dry needling uses the same needles as traditional acupuncture, but is backed by a different philosophy. It is important to note, however, that dry needling is best used in combination with other physical therapy interventions and a rehabilitation plan that covers exercise based recovery as appropriate.
Any person of any age can be treated, but those who have had more recent injuries and are younger require less frequent treatments than those who have had their injury for some time.
For the rest of the day after a dry needling session, your muscles can feel achy and tired, a bit like they have done a big workout at the gym. It is a good idea to drink plenty of water, and rest if tired. If you are used to the needling, it should be fine to continue your normal activity that day, but after your treatment, you may choose to take a day off from any competitive sports.
If your condition is ongoing/chronic, regular dry needling may be an effective way of managing it. For most people a course of 3 to 6 treatments can make considerable changes in muscle tension.
What is dry needling used for?
Dry needling targets muscle tissue, and its nerve connections, so any conditions where muscle pain or tightness is an issue could potentially benefit. This may include such things as neck tension, headaches, back pain, tennis elbow, shoulder conditions or shin pain.
What are the risks?
The main risk with dry needling would be a pneumo-thorax due to a needle entering the lung. There is only a risk when needling over the chest area. This however should never happen if a trained therapist is doing needling on a patient. There are specific safety precautions that we follow to ensure absolute minimum risk.
With any needle there is a risk of infection. Proper precautions are taken to minimise the risk. These are the main risks involved and we have never had a case in my practice for as long as we have been in practice. At Achilles clinic we provide superficial and deep dry needling for muscloskeletal pain and dysfunction.