Dry Needling

Dry needling is a modern form of treatment performed by physiotherapists involving the insertion of very fine needles into areas of the body to create a response in the tissue. Some of the conditions that may benefit from dry needling are:

• Pain associated with tight muscles (myofascial trigger points)
• Injuries where muscle tightness is part of the problem
• Issues from biomechanics where muscle tightness is part of the problem
• Back pain
• Acute wry neck
• Headaches
• Referred pain

What is dry needling?

Dry needling arose as a direct result of acupuncture’s success in the treatment of particular conditions. Acupuncture is a traditional form of treatment in Chinese Medicine that has been used for more than 5000 years. Through specific placement of very fine needles in particular areas of skin, acupuncturists believe they modify the flow of energy – Qi. These specific locations, known as meridians, have been perfected over the years and passed down over generations of therapists who have practiced this ancient art form.

More modern forms of Western medicine saw the scope of acupuncture in treatment and have adopted a similar form of treatment inserting needles into the skin – called dry needling. Literature suggests Kellegren was one of the first to do this in the late 1930’s, although dry needling wasn’t popularised by practitioners until the 1980’s by Travell and Simons. The term dry needling was adopted around this time to describe the difference between using hollow hypodermic needle to insert or withdraw fluid from the body (wet-needling), and the use of solid thin needles, which don’t allow the transfer of fluid – hence ‘dry needling’.

Those who practice dry needling do not necessarily share an acupuncturist’s belief that needles can alter the flow of Qi around the body. Rather, some of the more current dry needling researchers, Selvaratnam and Gabel, believe that dry needling can reduce muscle tightness and neural sensitivity. Muscles are designed to contract and relax, but with overload and occasions of dysfunctional nerve signal, they may develop tight areas or knots – known as myofascial trigger points. The deactivation of myofascial trigger points is done through placing needles in areas of palpable muscular tightness. At times where dry needling is done to reduce pain, needles are placed in particular locations based on the knowledge of location and supply of nerves.

Your physio has specialist knowledge as to where to place the needles to achieve effective treatment. If you wish to try this form of treatment, please discuss this with your physiotherapist and they will let you know if it would be appropriate for you. In some conditions, your physio may recommend dry needling as an alternative as it is often more comfortable than deep massage to eliminate tight areas.