Dry Needling is a common treatment technique that I use in the clinic, and one that I find often gives very good results. An added bonus is that it gives my hands a break, which is needed after 10 years of private practice! However I find that many of my patients don't know what on on earth I'm talking about when I tell them I think we should try dry needling...
So what is it?
I usually start off by telling people it's like acupuncture but it's not acupuncture! Basically the term dry needling refers to the insertion of fine filament needles (the same needles that are used in acupuncture) into soft tissue to produce various therapeutic effects. These include release of tight muscles, reduced inflammation and repair of damaged soft tissue to name a few. I utilise a form of dry needling called Integrated Dry Needling, developed by Australian physiotherapist Andrew Hutton.
How is it different to acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment modality used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It involves the insertion of needles into specific sites (known as acupuncture or meridian points) along the body's meridians to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of qi through the individual. In dry needling we don't necessarily needle into specific acupuncture points, but rather use our knowledge of anatomy and our assessment skills to needle into areas of reactive soft tissue, trigger points or along neural pathways.
Why is it called "Dry Needling"?
Basically because it involves the insertion of a needle but no injection of a substance into the body, therefore making it 'dry'.
Does it hurt?
Probably the 2nd most asked question (after 'what is it?') and rightly so! Although the name really doesn't help, I and the majority of my patients, will tell you that it doesn't hurt. In fact, manual massage or hands on techniques often cause a lot more pain! Dry needling done well in the hands of an experienced practitioner should cause little to no pain. Occasionally you may experience some mild aching while the needle is in or a brief muscle twitch that eases quickly. In all my years of practicing, I have never had someone ask me to not needle them again after their first treatment. I do find however that those that are anxious about having needling done and tense during their treatment may experience pain, largely due to the difficulty of inserting a needle into a tense muscle. In those patients, dry needling is usually not an effective treatment and I will use another treatment technique instead.
What conditions is it useful for?
Lots of them! Some of the most common conditions I treat with dry needling are:
- back and neck pain
- tendinopathies, such as tennis elbow or achilles
- shoulder impingement
- muscle strain or tears
- postural dysfunction
- neuromuscular dysfunction
- ligament injuries
Dry needling is one of my treatment tools, not my only one. A physio session may include use of dry needling but it is very rarely the only technique that I will use.
How long do the needles stay in?
That depends on what I'm using the needling to treat. It could be as quick as a minute or two. The maximum timeframe would usually be no more than 10-15 minutes.
Are there any side effects post-treatment?
On occasion people report some post treatment soreness. However as dry needling is very rarely the only treatment technique I use in a session, it can be difficult to determine what technique caused any soreness post treatment. If you do happen to suffer any post-treatment soreness it should settle within 24-48 hours.
Most importantly, does it work?
The evidence base for dry needling has increased substantially over the past decade. In particular, research has grown to provide evidence-based support in the treatment of acute and chronic back pain, chronic neck pain, tension headaches, pelvic pain, knee osteoarthritis, lateral elbow pain and shoulder conditions. Clinically I find that it is effective for many different patients, across a number of different conditions.
If dry needling is going to be effective in treating your condition, you'll generally notice an improvement in your symptoms soon after the first session.