Have you ever rubbed a sore calf muscle and noticed a particularly tender area? Those sensitive, tight spots in your muscle fibres are known as myofascial trigger points. They can form after injury or overuse when your muscle hasn’t managed to lengthen and relax after being used. The area becomes sensitive and inflamed, making your muscle feel weak and limiting your movement.
Dry needle therapy is a way of releasing those sore knots in your muscles. Fine, sterile acupuncture needles are inserted into the sore muscle to help it relax so that your pain reduces and you can move more easily. The needles are left in for 5-15 minutes to allow the knotted muscle to relax. It can be quite relaxing for the rest of your body too.
The short answer is because the needle is dry.
Needles are often used to inject medicine into a patient, for example, a vaccination or insulin to treat diabetes. In those cases, the hollow needle is just the delivery mechanism — the actual treatment is the substance it supplies.
In dry needling, the small, solid needles are the treatment. No ‘wet’ substance is injected. The benefits come from the needles themselves releasing the knotted muscles.
We use dry needling to treat muscle tissue in order to reduce pain, release trigger points and help restore function. It’s often combined with other treatments for your condition, such as exercises, massage and joint mobilisation.
When the needle is inserted into the muscle in the right place, the trigger point may twitch then relax. That allows blood and oxygen to flow in and toxins to be flushed out. It may reduce pain and inflammation, allowing you to use your muscle easily again.
Dry needling may benefit many musculoskeletal conditions including pain in your shoulder, neck, heels, hips or back.
At Vitalis Physiotherapy, we may use dry needling to provide treatment for:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Low back pain
- Rotator cuff problems in your shoulder
- Radicular arm pain
- Joint problems
- Whiplash associated disorder
- Chronic neck pain.
It shouldn’t because the needles are incredibly fine. You’ll probably feel a little pin-prick when it’s inserted. It might feel a bit strange or uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be painful.
All treatments have potential side-effects, however dry needling performed by trained physiotherapists should result in few side-effects. Some patients report minor bruising, spotting, discomfort or nausea.
Yes, our responses differ, just as we do. In our experience, some people have a strong response to dry needling, others have a normal response and a third group have a weak response.
- Strong responders tend to:
- Find pain eases within minutes or seconds
- Need few needles and only gentle stimulation
- Feel relaxed and sleepy, which is a good sign that the treatment is working.
Normal responders represent the middle ground. They have an average response to treatment, finding that their symptoms improve after a few days.
Weak responders need strong stimulation and more treatments to produce the desired effect.
Dry needling should only be done by a trained professional. There are some contraindications for dry needling. It’s not recommended for women in the first trimester of pregnancy, or for people who’ve had recent surgery, have a blood clotting disorder or are taking blood-thinning medication. And if you’re terrified of needles, it’s probably not for you!
Talk to Vitalis Physiotherapy about whether dry needling might be appropriate for your condition. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.