Are you needing some dry needling?

Your go-to guide and why it might be the link you've been missing

by Sarah Meade, January 2022

Agility Osteopathy South Melbourne - dry needling

For some, the mere mention of dry needling may be enough to bring some sweat to your brow. It is natural to be curious and even somewhat nervous, particularly when you may know very little about it save that it includes the word ‘needle’ in it. However, there are proven benefits of dry needling which warrant its inclusion as part of your treatment program. This article seeks to provide a whistle stop tour on dry needling, to help you make an informed decision when it is next raised by your osteopath.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a common treatment technique used by many physical therapists around the world. It involves the use of small, sterile, single use needles that are considered ‘dry’ as they don’t inject any wet substances into the body. They are typically inserted into myofascial trigger points – the small, taut bands of muscle fibres within a muscle, more commonly referred to as “knots” or “trigger points”.

Untreated, these trigger points can cause a muscle to lose function or cause pain, either at the source, or referred pain to another area. Dry needling releases these trigger points to lessen pain and improve functionality within the muscle. This same technique can also be used on tendons and connective tissue for the same effect.

How does dry needling work?

  1. Relaxes the muscle, reducing pain and improving function
  2. Improves blood flow to the area
  3. Causes an inflammatory process which encourages your body’s natural healing process
  4. Releases natural pain relieving hormones (opioids) and our feel good hormones (endorphins), reducing the need to rely on pain relief medication.
  5. Alters the sensory feedback back to your brain – changing the way you perceive pain or sensations from the area

Evidence supports dry needling over a course of treatment, providing a cumulative effect over time. That said, often a positive effect is felt after just one dry needling session.

What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?

While the equipment and treatment might appear to be similar, acupuncture (‘acu’ meaning skin and ‘puncture’ meaning pierce) is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophies with a focus on meridian lines, zones and acupuncture points, while the term “dry needling” was adopted (many centuries later) by western medicine to treat musculoskeletal conditions as per the five points above.

Will it help my pain?

Dry needling has proven evidence to be beneficial for common conditions including knee osteoarthritis and plantar fasciitis. Your osteopath will undertake a thorough assessment to determine whether you are suited for dry needling treatment. You may benefit from dry needling if you suffer from any of the following conditions:

Shoulder pain
Elbow pain (including golfer’s & tennis elbow)
Reduced hip mobility
Acute sporting injuries including sprains and strains
Muscle tension
High stress levels

What are the side effects of dry needling?

Every treatment technique used by manual therapists will naturally have associated risks of side effects – even a soft tissue massage can produce some soreness!

The most common side effects of dry needling include temporary localised pain from the needle, bruising and bleeding (that is, droplets of blood at the site of the needle insertion on the very rare occasion). Any adverse side effects should be cleared up within 72 hours.

Before your osteopath (or any one else) proceeds with dry needling, they will assess that it is an appropriate treatment course for you, including consideration of your past and current medical history such as blood disorders, epilepsy, diabetes, allergies and even your reaction to needles.

We hope that this has been an informative introduction to dry needling. If you have any other questions, or wish to discuss incorporating dry needling into your treatment regime, please feel free to speak to your osteopath.

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