Dry needling is a technique used to directly target and break down stubborn muscle knots and trigger points.
Also known as intramuscular manual therapy, it works by using extremely thin needles placed just under the skin to manipulate muscle knots, and gently encourage them to release and let go.
It is a particularly good method for treating knots, myofascial trigger points and chronic nerve pain, caused by injury, musculoskeletal issues or chronic pain conditions.
Is It Similar To Acupuncture?
The needles used in dry needling are actually acupuncture needles, so there are some similarities. However, what separates each process and makes them two entirely different treatment methods, is the way in which the needles are used.
Acupuncture follows the philosophies of traditional Chinese Medicine, where needles are inserted at particular points on the body that follow energy pathways.
Although acupuncture needles can be placed all over the body, they are only inserted in to these specific acupuncture points. This means they are not necessarily inserted directly in to muscle knots.
Dry needling differs to this as it does not follow the laws and theories of Chinese medicine. Instead, the therapist will insert the needles where they feel they are required most. They feel around the body to find the knots, follow those muscle patterns and establish where trigger points may occur.
This technique can mean that less needles are used than in an acupuncture treatment. However it does all depend on your condition and your therapist.
Another specific difference, is that unlike the ‘set and forget’ nature of acupuncture, the needles are not left in the body for as long. The therapist will insert the needle directly in to the muscle belly and wait for the knot to relax. Once the muscle tissue unwinds, the needle is immediately and painlessly removed.
How Does A Thin Needle Break A Trigger Point Down?
There is actually a lot of healing power in this gentle needle method. But what breaks the muscle tissue down, is the biochemical reactions that occur, that also help with reducing pain.
Firstly, the needles change tissue abnormalities that result from neuro-phsiologocal load on the system which are responsible for causing irritation, inflammation and pain sensitivities. When the needle hits the trigger point, it forces a reflex action that results in the muscle relaxing and letting go.
Secondly, the needle hitting the muscle knot assists with the release of built up lactic acid, as well as other endogenous opioids. All of which help to speed up the recovery of the tissue and provide pain relief.
Some Of The Benefits Of Dry Needling Can Include:
- The break down and release of stubborn muscle knots
- Effective in lessening referred pain
- Helps to alleviate nerve pain associated with damaged muscle tissue
- Can be less painful than other trigger point injection therapies
- Less likely to bleed or bruise from a treatment
- Is very useful in ‘prepping the body’ for other treatments such as Massage,Osteopathic Manipulative Treatments, or other Physio therapy related work.
Is Dry Needling Painful?
Just like acupuncture, the use of dry needles shouldn’t be painful. You will feel a slight ‘tap’ as the needle is inserted, but as it is placed just under the skin, in most cases you will hardly notice it is there.
When targeting particularly stubborn muscle restrictions, the therapist may manually wriggle the needle to help it release. Sometimes this wriggling can be a little uncomfortable, and can cause a twitch, but it’s also a good sign that the needle has hit the exact spot. In this instance, some people may experience this sensation as a deep muscle cramp, however it is not usually long lasting.
A consideration for Fibromyalgia sufferers, is that If your muscles are particularly tight, your therapist may find it difficult to actually get the needle in. As the needles are only inserted about ¼ to an inch just under the skin, some stubborn muscles will be too hard and dense for the needle to penetrate. If this happens, the therapist may massage the area until it relaxes and try again, or focus on working on another area.
Over all dry needling isn’t usually painful, and bleeding or bruising is not common. Particularly stubborn knots or those who suffer from hypersensitivity may feel a little sensitive to touch, for a day or two afterward.
What Positive Effects Might You Feel?
- Deep relaxation
- A sense of your body unwinding as muscles let go
- You may feel as you have improved range of motion, as knots are no longer restricting your movement
- Less likely to bleed or bruise from a treatment
- It can help to release tension headaches as your body relaxes
- Improved sleep
Why Is It A Good Treatment For Fibromyalgia?
Dry needling can be an effective treatment for Fibromyalgia because although it is considered an invasive treatment, it doesn’t feel invasive.
Also, sometimes the most effective treatments for Fibromyalgia are the ones that require the least manual intervention. A body in a particularly pent up distressed state that is common in FMS, will not often respond as well to other more ‘hands on’ treatment methods until it has first been calmed down.
This is why dry needling can be so effective. Because once the hair thin needle is inserted into the knot, it’s left to do its work. And what’s great about this treatment, is that usually it’s not a long process for the knot to break down.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Side effects of needling are quite rare. Usually any pain experienced during a session such as tingling, redness or sore spots is mild and not long lasting.
What some Fibromyalgia sufferers may be particularly sensitive to however, is the effects of the release of lactic acid. This release can make you feel lethargic, bloated or a bit foggy headed. Sometimes it is a little unpleasant and can create feelings of confusion.
As a positive however, such sensations are an excellent indication that dry needling has been effective. Drinking plenty of water after a session can help to counteract these feelings which should subside within a few hours or overnight.
What Other Conditions Is Dry Needling Used For?
Of course this treatment isn’t just beneficial for Fibromyalgia. There are many other conditions that it is used to treat. Some of these include:
- MPS, CFS
- Frozen Shoulder
- Tennis Elbow
- Shin Splints
- Sciatic Pain
- Repetitive Pain Injuries
- Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
- General pains In Legs, Hips, Arms, Knees etc.
I Tried Acupuncture Without Success. Should I Try Dry Needling?
If you have tried acupuncture before without much success, it may still be worth your while to try trigger point dry needling.
Not everyone responds successfully to energy treatments, such as acupuncture. But most people do get benefit from manual techniques that focuses directly on muscle knots, or nerve pain associated with damaged connective tissue.
Also, as it is a technique that is commonly used by Osteopath’s and Physio Therapists they will commonly use dry needling only as part of their treatment session for FMS. They may first use it as a prepping tool to slowly unwind the body and help it become more responsive to other treatments, such as massage, counter strain techniques or spinal manipulation.
For this reason, dry needling used in conjunction with other treatment methods can be more effective in treating someone who has Fibromyalgia, than just the needles themselves.