Dry needling is the use of a solid “gliding” needle for the treatment of pain or tissue disfunction. This contrasts with the use of a hollow, “cutting” hypodermic needle to inject substances to the same point. A solid needle can be as effective as an injection to relieve pain. The needle jams the transmission of pain and increases the body’s release of its own opioid pain relieving substances. It is not as painful as an injection. You feel a pin prick (the same sensation as pricking your finger with a sewing needle) and are then aware of the needle in the tissue.
The approach of dry needling is based on Western anatomical and neurophysiological principles and recent understandings in pain science. This is not to be confused with the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) rationale for the stimulation of acupuncture points. Acupuncture follows rules and beliefs that have been established since ancient times, whereas dry needling ignores ancient acupuncture philosophy.
Early and acute conditions respond to superficial stimulation using fine short needles in multiple insertions. An example is the patient with a sprained, swollen ankle where fine short needles are inserted around the ankle joint and on the foot. This relieves the pain and increases circulation, which kick starts the healing process. Fine short needles are also used in the face to treat sinusitis, bells palsy and shingles, and on the scalp to relieve head aches.
Chronic conditions with extensive fibrosis require deep and closely spaced penetration with a longer needle. The needle is inserted into hyper-irritable spots in the muscle that are associated with palpable nodules in taut bands of muscle fibers. Points may also be located by feeling for subtle differences in temperature on the skin surface, as well as changes in the tension of “stickiness” of the skin and tissue. Muscle spasm and trigger points respond well to deep dry needling for example in the back and neck muscles and around the shoulder and knee joints. Old sensitive scars can loose their zing with a few needles.
A low frequency electric charge can be connected to the needles to further enhance the stimulation of the needles. A patient with an old hamstring tear or a chronic ITB responds well to this kind of treatment.
- Use an experienced therapist that uses sterile disposable needles. Inform your therapist if you are:
- Pregnant - don’t needle back or abdomen
- Bleeder patients on anti-coagulants should not be needled vigorously
- Asthmatics, diabetics, migraine sufferers and epileptic patients – very sensitive - don’t needle vigorously
- The “bruised” feeling after the needling session may be relieved with rest and an ice or heat pad.
- Don’t needle deep and vigorously before a race, competition or practice session.
- Don’t do deep vigorous needling before an exam, an important meeting or if you plan to drive far or in heavy traffic, because you may feel disorientated or emotional after the session due to the opioid stimulation.