Dry needling as a technique which uses fine gauge and often pain-free needles to stimulate the body’s own natural mechanisms for pain relief. It involves combining detailed knowledge of anatomy and careful palpation skills to locate myofascial trigger points throughout the body and gently inserting single use needles directly into the ‘knot’ or ‘trigger point’. This causes the knot to relax and pain relieving chemicals, produced naturally in the body, to flood the area.
This therapy has its roots in traditional Acupuncture which uses needles to move the body’s flow of energy known as “Chi”. Although we might use the same needles as Acupuncture it is important to note that they are vastly different therapies: one based on 2000 years of traditional Chinese medicine and the other on Western medicine, involving injecting and needling injured or painful parts of the body.
There are two main ideas about how these exquisitely tender points in muscles form and give us so much of our muscular pain. One theory is: it is when a muscle fibre runs out of energy to move. Once out of energy it is left stuck in a painful contracted position, cutting off oxygen to that part of the muscle. This might be why we get sore aching muscles after we work out at the gym or strain our neck for hours in front of the computer screen at work. Our poor muscles have run out of energy to even relax! A second theory says that these knots might come from the increased activity where a nerve enters a muscle. This would certainly explain why the knots always seem to pop up in the same spots and increase when our brain and nervous system is under stress. It is quite common to find students stressing out over an exam, full of knots in their upper traps and neck.
Stretching helps muscles but on its own will not cure trigger points, strong deep tissue massage or gentle needling is often required. Dry needling can treat trigger points even if they have been in a muscle for a long time and can also prevent muscular problems from arising. Locating and treating trigger points early when they are small can promote correct biomechanical recruitment and give a joint smoother more efficient movement. A better moving joint is both easier to use and less likely to develop an injury in the future (Lucus et al, 2004).
Like with any therapy there are small potential risks but, done correctly by a qualified professional, complications are very unlikely. Performed without the proper knowledge and precautions, there are risks of punctured lung, infection or fainting. When seeking treatment for muscular pain and ‘knots’ it is important to ensure that your therapist has the correct qualifications and experience. Talk to your physiotherapist if you are interested in knowing more about how dry needling could compliment your current treatment.
By Danielle Whitty