What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a treatment technique whereby a sterile, single-use, fine filament needle (acupuncture needle) is inserted into the muscle to assist with decreasing pain and improving function through the release of myofascial trigger points (knots in muscle).
What is the Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?
Dry needling is not the same as acupuncture, although there are similarities between the two techniques. The main difference between dry needling and acupuncture is the theory behind why the methods work. Dry needling’s primarily focused on the reduction of pain and restoration of function through the release of myofascial trigger points in the muscle. In comparison, acupuncture focuses on the treatment of medical conditions by restoring the flow of energy (Qi) through critical points in the body (meridians) to restore balance.
What is a Myofascial Trigger Point?
A myofascial trigger point, also known as a knot in the muscle, is a group of muscle fibres which have shortened when activated but have not been able to lengthen back to a relaxed state after use. A myofascial trigger point develops a sensitive nodule in the muscle (Simons, Travell & Simons, 1999). This hypersensitivity occurs as the muscle fibres become so tight that they compress the capillaries and nerves that supply them (McPartland, 2004; Simons et al., 1999). As a result, the muscle is unable to move frequently, obtain a fresh blood supply containing oxygen and nutrients, or flush out additional acidic chemicals (McPartland, 2004; Simons et al., 1999). In addition to this nodule, the remainder of the muscle also tightens to compensate (Simons et al., 1999; Simons, 2002). The presence of a myofascial trigger point in a muscle can lead to discomfort with touch, movement and stretching; to decreased joint motion; and even a temporary loss of coordination (Simons et al., 1999).
How Does Dry Needling Work?
Dry needling assists with decreasing local muscular pain and improving function through the restoration of a muscle’s natural ability to lengthen and shorten by releasing myofascial trigger points.
What Does Dry Needling Do?
When the delicate filament needle inserts into the centre of a myofascial trigger point, blood pools around the needle triggering the contracted muscle fibres to relax. It also helps to provide those fibres with fresh oxygen and nutrients, as well as by flushing away any additional acidic chemicals. This reaction, in turn, leads to the decompression of the local blood and nerve supply.
What Causes a Myofascial Trigger Point?
A myofascial trigger point develops as part of the body’s protective response following:
- injury – the muscle will tighten in an attempt to reduce the severity of an injury;
- unexpected movements, e.g. descending a step that is lower than initially anticipated;
- quick movements, e.g. looking over your shoulder while driving;
- change in regular activity or muscle loading, e.g. an increase in the number or intensity of training sessions for sport;
- sustained postures, e.g. prolonged sitting for work or study;
- nerve impingement – the muscle will tighten to protect the nerve;
- illness (bacterial or viral);
- nutritional deficiencies, or;
- metabolic and endocrine conditions.
(Simons, et al., 1999)
When Is Dry Needling Treatment Recommended?
Dry needling can assist in treatment:
- to help release myofascial trigger points (muscle knots);
- to assist with pain management, and;
- to restore movement at a joint if inhibited by myofascial trigger points.
What Will You Feel During Dry Needling Treatment?
During a dry needling treatment, you may feel a mild sensation as the needle inserts and withdraws. Patients don’t report any discomfort during needle manipulation.
A brief muscle twitch may occur during a dry needling treatment. This twitch may happen when the needle directly stimulates a myofascial trigger point.
Where Does Dry Needling Fit Within Your Rehabilitation Program?
Dry needling is one of many techniques that can be utilised by your physiotherapist to assist with your rehabilitation. We combine dry needling with other physiotherapy techniques, including massage, manual therapy, and exercise prescription.
What are the Side Effects of Dry Needling?
Every form of treatment can carry an associated risk. Your physiotherapist can explain the risks and can determine whether dry needling is suitable for you based on your injury and your general health.
When dry needling occurs, single-use, sterile needles are always used and disposed of immediately after use into a certified sharps container.
Is Dry Needling Safe?
Everybody is different and can respond differently to various treatment techniques, including dry needling. In addition to the benefits that dry needling can provide, some side effects may occur, including spotting or bruising, fainting, nausea, residual discomfort or even altered energy levels. However, these symptoms should last no longer than 24 to 48 hours after treatment.
Can You Exercise After Dry Needling?
We recommend avoiding strenuous or high impact activities immediately after dry needling, to allow the body time to recover, and to maximise the benefits of the treatment.
At PhysioWorks, most of our physiotherapists are qualified and skilled in dry needling and would be happy to discuss your treatment options.
FAQs about Dry Needling & Acupuncture.
What is Physiotherapy Treatment?
Physiotherapists help people affected by illness, injury or disability through exercise, manual joint therapy, soft tissue techniques education and advice. Physiotherapists maintain physical health, help patients to manage pain and prevent disease for people of all ages. Physiotherapists help to encourage pain-relief, injury recovery, enabling people to stay playing a sport, working or performing activities of daily living while assisting them to remain functionally independent.
There is a multitude of different physiotherapy treatment approaches.
Acute & Sub-Acute Injury Management
Hands-On Physiotherapy Techniques
Your physiotherapist's training includes hands-on physiotherapy techniques such as:
- Joint Mobilisation (gentle joint gliding techniques)
- Joint Manipulation
- Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
- Minimal Energy Techniques (METs)
- Soft Tissue Techniques
Your physiotherapist has skilled training. Physiotherapy techniques have expanded over the past few decades. They have researched, upskilled and educated themselves in a spectrum of allied health skills. These skills include techniques shared with other healthcare practitioners. Professions include exercise physiologists, remedial massage therapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, kinesiologists, chiropractors and occupational therapists, just to name a few.
Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled professional who utilises strapping and taping techniques to prevent and assist injuries or pain relief and function.
Alternatively, your physiotherapist may recommend a supportive brace.
Acupuncture and Dry Needling
Many physiotherapists have acquired additional training in the field of acupuncture and dry needling to assist pain relief and muscle function.
Physiotherapists have been trained in the use of exercise therapy to strengthen your muscles and improve your function. Physiotherapy exercises use evidence-based protocols where possible as an effective way that you can solve or prevent pain and injury. Your physiotherapist is highly-skilled in the prescription of the "best exercises" for you and the most appropriate "exercise dose" for you depending on your rehabilitation status. Your physiotherapist will incorporate essential components of pilates, yoga and exercise physiology to provide you with the best result. They may even use Real-Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy so that you can watch your muscles contract on a screen as you correctly retrain them.
- Muscle Stretching
- Core Exercises
- Strengthening Exercises
- Balance Exercises
- Proprioception Exercises
- Real-Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy
- Swiss Ball Exercises
Biomechanical assessment, observation and diagnostic skills are paramount to the best treatment. Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled health professional. They possess superb diagnostic skills to detect and ultimately avoid musculoskeletal and sports injuries. Poor technique or posture is one of the most common sources of a repeat injury.
Aquatic water exercises are an effective method to provide low bodyweight exercises.
Sports physio requires an extra level of knowledge and physiotherapy skill to assist injury recovery, prevent injury and improve performance. For the best advice, consult a Sports Physiotherapist.
Women's Health Physiotherapy is a particular interest group of therapies.
Not only can your physiotherapist assist you in sport, but they can also help you at work. Ergonomics looks at the best postures and workstation set up for your body at work or home. Whether it be lifting technique improvement, education programs or workstation setups, your physiotherapist can help you.
Plus Much More
Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled body mechanic. A physiotherapist has particular interests in certain injuries or specific conditions. For advice regarding your individual problem, please contact your PhysioWorks team.
Dry needling is an effective and efficient technique for the treatment of muscular pain and myofascial dysfunction. Dry needling or intramuscular stimulation (IMS) is a technique that was developed by Dr Chan Gunn. Dry needling is a beneficial method to relax overactive muscles.
In simple terms, the treatment involves needling of a muscle's trigger points without injecting any substance. Western anatomical and neurophysiological principles are the basis of dry needling. It should not be confused with the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique of acupuncture. However, since both dry needling and acupuncture utilise the same filament needles, the confusion is understandable.
Dr Chan Gunn, in his IMS approach, and Dr Fischer, in his segmental approach to Dry Needling, strongly advocate the importance of clearing trigger points in both peripheral and spinal areas.
Dry needling trained health practitioners use dry needling daily for the treatment of muscular pain and dysfunction.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture originated in China over 5000 years ago. Acupuncture works on the belief that a balanced flow of qi, the vital life energy present in all living organisms, determines your health status. According to acupuncture theory, chi circulates in the body along twelve major pathways, called meridians, each linked to specific internal organs and organ systems.
By inserting very-fine gauge sterile single-use needles at specific points along the meridians, your acupuncturist can redirect and reposition the flow of energy (qi) to relieve tension, stress, and pain. The uninterrupted and balanced flow of energy along these meridians contributes to one's overall health. However, blockages and imbalances result in pain and illness.
What Conditions Could Acupuncture Help?
In Western Medicine, acupuncture is mainly used as a pain relief treatment option. Acupuncture may provide short-term pain relief and is commonly used in combination with other treatment options such as exercise.
Research evidence supporting acupuncture as a treatment modality is variable with most researchers noting that additional research needs to be undertaken to fully understand and support the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture. (See References below for more information)
Acupuncture may be considered by your healthcare professional after their thorough assessment in the following conditions:
For specific advice regarding your pain or health condition, please consult with your trusted healthcare practitioner. They will be able to discuss the appropriateness of acupuncture based on your clinical assessment.
Do Acupuncture Needles Hurt?
No. The insertion of acupuncture needles should be painless. You may feel a slight tingling or heaviness after they are inserted. This is a very common effect that will be monitored by your practitioner during the consultation. At PhysioWorks, we only use single-use, individually wrapped and sterilised needles that we discard immediately after use.
Children and Acupuncture
Parents and guardian permission is required for children under the age of 18. Older children are usually comfortable with acupuncture. However, for small children or patients who fear needles, needle acupuncture is not recommended.
How Much Acupuncture Treatment Will You Need?
The response to acupuncture treatment varies from person to person. Obviously, your treatment schedule will vary depending on your condition. Your healthcare practitioner will discuss your treatment plan during your consultation based on your clinical assessment.
Private Health Fund Rebates
Most private health funds offer rebates on acupuncture or dry needling treatments as a component of your physiotherapy or acupuncture consultation.
Deare JC, Zheng Z, Xue CCL, Liu JP, Shang J, Scott SW, Littlejohn G. Acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD007070. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007070.pub2
Furlan AD, van Tulder MW, Cherkin D, Tsukayama H, Lao L, Koes BW, Berman BM. Acupuncture and dry-needling for low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001351. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001351.pub2
Green S, Buchbinder R, Barnsley L, Hall S, White M, Smidt N, Assendelft WJJ. Acupuncture for lateral elbow pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD003527. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003527
Green S, Buchbinder R, Hetrick SE. Acupuncture for shoulder pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD005319. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005319
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin B, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD007587. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007587.pub2
Manheimer E, Cheng K, Linde K, Lao L, Yoo J, Wieland S, van der Windt DAWM, Berman BM, Bouter LM. Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews2010, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001977. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001977.pub2.
Ning, Z. and Lao, L. (2015). Acupuncture for Pain Management in Evidence-based Medicine. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 8(5), pp.270-273.
Villarreal Santiago, M., Tumilty, S., Mącznik, A. and Mani, R. (2016). Does Acupuncture Alter Pain-related Functional Connectivity of the Central Nervous System? A Systematic Review. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 9(4), pp.167-177.
Acupressure is a massage pressure technique that works upon acupuncture points. Rather than fine needles, finger pressure exerted at specific points along the meridians aim to stimulate, disperse and balance the flow of energy, relieve pain, and treat a variety of chronic, acute and degenerative conditions.Our PhysioWorks physiotherapists and remedial massage therapists are acupressure trained. Please ask them if you would like acupressure incorporated into your treatment.
What is a Trigger Point?Dr's Travell and Simons defined a myofascial trigger point as a hyperirritable spot in a skeletal muscle. A trigger point is usually painful on compression and may give rise to characteristic referred pain, referred tenderness, motor dysfunction and autonomic phenomena. Myofascial trigger points occur in both acute and chronic pain conditions. Hendler and Kozikowski suggest that myofascial trigger points as the most commonly missed diagnosis in chronic pain patients.
Why Do Trigger Points Cause Pain?According to Dr Gunn, 'Shortening in muscles acting across a joint increase joint pressure, upsets alignment, and can precipitate pain in the joint, i.e. arthralgia.' There is also a theory that permanent muscle contraction is abnormal and can create an ischaemic muscle pain due to the restriction decreasing normal muscle blood flow.
How are your Trigger Points Treated?It is possible to deactivate triggers points by various methods such as acupressure, dry needling, muscle stretching, trigger point massage devices or injecting them with a large number of varying substances, including saline (saltwater) placebo.
Trigger Point Massage/AcupressureTrigger Point Therapy is a form of Remedial Massage Therapy in which direct pressure is applied to specified points on tender muscle tissue to bring about a reduction in muscle tension and pain relief.Trigger point therapy is for almost everyone. Muscles with active trigger points are always weaker than healthy muscles and unable to move through their full range of motion. Often because they are unable to perform their normal function, you recruit alternative muscles to perform the activity of the compromised muscle. These secondary muscles can go on to develop trigger points themselves if you don't treat the original hypertonic muscle.
Dry NeedlingDry needling may assist with decreasing local muscular pain and improving function through the restoration of your muscle's ability to elongate and shorten. When your therapist inserts a fine filament needle into the centre of a myofascial trigger point, blood pools around the needle triggering the contracted muscle fibres to relax by providing those fibres with fresh oxygen and nutrients, as well as by flushing away any additional acidic chemicals. This reaction leads to the decompression of the local blood and nerve supply.
How Does Dry Needling Work?The needle sites can be at the epicentre of taut, tender muscle bands, or they can be near the spine where the nerve root may have become irritated and supersensitive. Penetration of a healthy muscle is painless. But, a shortened, supersensitive muscle may 'grasp' the needle or trigger the muscle.Dry needling of the 'shortened' muscle band causes an immediate, palpable relaxation. The patient often experiences a sense of release and increased range of motion. When used in conjunction with motor control retraining and postural and movement behaviour retraining, the trigger point release obtained from dry needling can be long-lasting. The result is a stimulation of the stretch receptor within the muscle (muscle spindle), producing a reflex relaxation or lengthening response.
Dry Needling vs Trigger Point InjectionsResearchers have studied trigger point injections using placebo saline and drug therapy. They have concluded that the only consistent factor is that the pain relief is from the stimulation of the needle used for the injection itself, rather than the drug or saline solution used. While the jury is probably still out on the effect of trigger point injections, it is perhaps fair to suggest that the mechanical needle stimulation of the trigger point without the use of a drug (dry needling) does have a positive effect upon hyperstimulated trigger points. If you are interested in dry needling, most of our PhysioWorks Physiotherapists are dry needle trained.Trigger Point Massage Tools
Acupuncture may be an effective short-term treatment for pain. Acupuncture may be considered by your healthcare professional in the following conditions:
For specific advice regarding your pain or health condition, please consult with your trusted healthcare practitioner.