Dry Needling Therapy

What is Dry Needling Therapy? 

Dry needling therapy is a technique where physiotherapists insert thin needles into the body’s tight and damaged muscles (also called trigger points). This therapy technique helps patients manage the pain they experience from neuromusculoskeletal injuries. It can also help patients regain muscle movement. Physiotherapists use very thin needles during this process. They penetrate the patient’s skin, fascia, and muscles. Then, physiotherapists manipulate the connective tissues to relieve trigger or pressure points. The needles clear up all knotted areas (trigger points) inside muscles and tissues.

Needling decreases muscle hypertonicity. It can also enhance the range of motion of damaged joints. However, most physiotherapists use this technique to cure myofascial pain. The needles stimulate damaged myofascial tissue and help patients get rid of sensations like muscle aching, soreness, etc. Physiotherapists assess patients based on how much myofascial pain they experience. Then, they determine how deep the needles go inside their skin and how long they stay there. 

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Types of Dry Needling Therapy

There are many ways of performing this invasive therapy. Some of the most common types of dry needling techniques include:

  • Trigger-Point Dry Needling - Trigger points are spots in muscles or tissues that are highly sensitive to touch. For example, if you have injured your wrist, your wrist’s fascial tissues will have several trigger points. They’re essentially tight knots of muscle tissue and are extremely painful. Physiotherapists insert special needles into these sensitive areas during trigger-point dry needling. By doing so, they stimulate the muscle and remove the painful knots.
  • Superficial Dry Needling – In this technique, the needles don’t travel too deep into the skin. Physiotherapists typically use this technique to treat super-delicate areas of the body (e.g., lower back muscles).
  • Deep Dry Needling – Physiotherapists use this technique to help patients who have long-standing spine-related conditions. Physiotherapists use longer needles to cure their painful and deep-lying symptoms. The long needles allow them to access and manipulate deeper muscle tissues that are causing pain.

Risks of Dry Needling Therapy

Experienced physiotherapists have a great track record with this therapy technique. But, first-time patients may experience some side effects such as -

  • Temporary increase in pain, which resolves on its own after 24 to 48 hours
  • Bruising/bleeding at the insertion sites
  • People with blood pressure under 120/70 or dehydration issues may faint during treatment.
  • Fatigue
  • Histamine reactions to the needles
  • Thankfully, experienced physiotherapists make sure these rare side effects don’t negatively impact patients’ health.

Benefits of Dry Needling Therapy

This therapy technique can help patients suffering from all types of acute or chronic pain, irrespective of the issue. Dry needling therapy is extremely helpful in treating back pain, plantar fasciitis, back pain, and other neuromusculoskeletal issues. Some direct advantages of this therapy include:

  • Improved muscle performance
  • Improved nerve function
  • Stops the formation of scar tissues
  • Improved integrity of tendons and ligaments
  • Consistent pain relief
  • Reduction in myofascial and tissue inflammation
  • Stimulation of the nervous system boosts healthy blood flow
  • Deactivates painful trigger points (tight knots in the muscles) that develop after injuries
  • Reduces muscular tension
  • Prevents nerve irritations
  • Minimizes swelling
  • Encourages homeostasis (natural healing process of the body)

Dry Needling Therapy is used to Treat What Conditions? 

This physical therapy technique can be used to treat a variety of conditions. If minor back pain is restricting your range of motion, dry needling will prevent the formation of scar tissues. If you’re a long-standing arthritis patient, this therapy can help you regain your range of motion by reducing muscle and joint tightness. Here are some common conditions it helps to treat:

  • Chronic lower back pain, neck pain, pelvic pain, and elbow pain (e.g., tennis elbow)
  • Spinal dysfunctions such as ankylosing spondylitis, basilar invagination, myelopathies, osteoporosis, kyphosis, and vertebral fractures.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ)
  • Repetitive motion disorders (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Degenerative disk diseases
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunctions
  • Sciatica
  • Tendinitis
  • Migraines
  • Night Cramps

Who Shouldn’t Have Dry Needling Therapy? 

This physical therapy should be avoided by patients who suffer from -  

  • Acute inflammation in specific locations of the body
  • People with cysts, tumors, and other abnormal skin lesions in their bodies
  • People who have varicose veins and abnormal bleeding tendencies
  • People with compromised auto-immune systems due to pre-existing health conditions
  • Diabetes patients
  • Pregnant women
  • Epileptics  
  • Children

How to Prepare for Dry Needling Therapy?

The idea of inserting needles into injured body parts may scare many people. Patients must realize that physiotherapists ensure that these processes are painless. So, the first step to preparing for this physical therapy is not stressing about it.

  • Always receive this physical therapy from trained and licensed physical therapists or occupational therapists.
  • Wear clothing items that make it easy to expose the areas that require treatment.
  • Expect your physiotherapist to leave the needles in your ‘trigger points’ for a few seconds.
  • The physiotherapist may recommend electrical stimulation via dry needles.
  • Clarify whether the treatment is covered in your health insurance plan before setting up an appointment.

Recovery: What happens after Dry Needling Therapy?

  • Compress the treatment areas immediately after the needle is withdrawn from the skin. By doing so, you’ll encourage hemostasis.
  • Use cotton swabs to stop bleeding (if any).
  • Physiotherapists teach customized aftercare methods to patients. These methods may include stretching, application of hot/cold packs to injured areas, limbering exercises, etc.

Related Therapies

Both dry needling and acupuncture are used to treat similar conditions. Recent studies have revealed that dry needling is more effective at reducing pain than acupuncture.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does this therapy hurt?
Expect mild discomfort on your first visit. But, the mild pain and discomfort are all short-lived.
2. How many sessions do I need?
Typically, patients report feeling much better after 2 to 3 sessions. After the initial sessions, physiotherapists create customized treatment regimens. Patients may require needling therapy once or twice a week for best results.
3. How is this physical therapy different from acupuncture?
This therapy technique is based on research and studies. It’s Western Medicine-based. On the other hand, acupuncture is based on Eastern Medicine’s holistic treatment principles.

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