Dry needling is a technique often recruited by physiotherapists in the management of myofascial trigger points – or muscle “knots” as they can more commonly be referred to. Trigger points develop in muscles in response to many different things. Holding the muscle in a shortened or lengthened position, like poor posture, can provoke trigger points. Too much load, like heavy lifting, or too much repetitive movement, like painting the fence or moving house, can also be to blame. Trigger points are there all the time, but when they are “active” you will feel them. They can cause referred pain, headaches and impair your movement, so treating them is a common goal of physio.
The term “dry” simply means that there is no fluid being injected via the needle, like cortisone or lidocaine for example. The therapy is simply the needle itself. The purpose of dry needling is to release the trigger points in the muscles which are usually causing pain and dysfunction. We use acupuncture needles which are very thin and come in different lengths, the longer ones obviously being more appropriate for deeper muscle groups such as the glutes. The needles are so thin that they usually pass through the skin without causing any bleeding.
Needling is not the only way to “deactivate” or release a trigger point and we don’t use it on everybody. Usually using massage, a thumb or elbow, or exercise will help release these muscles, but needling is arguably one of the faster ways to reduce their pain and tension.
When we perform dry needling, we are trying to elicit a “local twitch response”. This is when the muscle twitches or contracts, usually felt by the patient if not the physio. Research has shown that this twitch response is associated with:
- Reducing local and referred pain immediately
- Restoring range of motion in a muscle
- Restoring normal muscle activation patterns
- Reducing mechanical pain / pain with movement
Furthermore, dry needling is associated with causing local haemorrhage, which brings all the beneficial agents of blood into the area and may promote the healing process. It may cause dilation of local blood vessels to the muscle and promote blood flow to the nerves as well.
I will often tell my patients after dry needling that it will feel as though they have been “punched in the muscle”. It is a very deep, dull, aching pain when you manage to release a muscle using dry needling, but the effects over the next day or two can be quite profound. As mentioned above, it can help activate a muscle that is struggling to switch on well after injury or surgery, so sometimes we use it before strengthening to assist in the rehab process.
If you are suffering from muscle pain, stiffness, tension, loss of range or weakness, dry needling may assist in the management of your condition and returning to normal function. Come in and see one of the team at HealthZone Physiotherapy to discuss your options and see if dry needling is right for you.
Contact HealthZone Physiotherapy today on: (09) 477 2098