Dry needling is a very effective technique that is used by physiotherapists and chiropractors to treat pain in many acute and chronic conditions. Dry needling involves inserting a very thin needle directly into the myofascial trigger point in a muscle and is used to relieve pain, stiffness and restore function to that muscle. This therapy allows the physiotherapist to release trigger points in deep layers of muscles that would be hard to reach with hands-on therapy.
What is a myofascial trigger point?
Myofascial trigger points are small tight bands, commonly called knots in the muscle. These tight bands compress the small blood vessels and nerves in the area and, as a result, the muscle is unable to function properly, causing pain and stiffness. Myofascial trigger points can also cause referral pain to the surrounding areas. A trigger point can be caused by many things such as bad posture, stress, injury or a change in training programme.
How does dry needling differ from acupuncture?
Acupuncture is part of ancient Chinese medicine. It involves inserting needles along the body meridian lines in order to restore proper balance and energy flow throughout the body. Its main difference is the needle placement and the amount of time the needles are in place for. By comparison, when dry needling is done, the needle is inserted directly into the tender myofascial trigger point in the muscle. This causes an increase in blood flow to the area. You may feel a twitch in the muscle as the fibres relax. After the twitch response and relief of the referred pain, the needle is removed. This process also changes the way your body processes pain through a release of chemicals which may cause some people to feel very happy, tearful, sweaty or cold, although these sensations quickly fade.
Is it painful?
Dry needling is not like getting an injection. The needle is much thinner than the common hypodermic needle. You may feel a small sting or “tap” as the needle is inserted and a twitch in the muscle fibre. You may also feel a dull pain in the referral zones, which is normally fairly brief. The pain experienced slowly dissipates as the muscle relaxes.
Is this treatment safe?
Yes. A very thin, sterile, single-use needle is inserted (without medication) directly into the muscle. There is very little risk associated with this technique because it is done by a specially trained medical professional. Dry needling can be done almost anywhere on the body. After needling is done, there may be some bruising around the site of insertion and some tenderness in the muscle, which usually fades over the next 24 hours.
Kirsty is a qualified physiotherapist from Lamberti Physiotherapy in Fourways. Lamberti Physiotherapy has branches in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Find your nearest branch in our Services Directory or read more about them here.