Dry Needling: The Short & Long of It

Eek needles! Don't worry, we physio's don't (really) get enjoyment from hurting our clients or sticking needles in them for that matter; most people actually find that dry needling or 'Western acupuncture' is much less painful than deep tissue massage or trigger point release.

So what is Dry Needling? 

Dry needling involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into certain muscles and specific points in your body. These needles usually come in a sealed, one-time use packets and the exact length and diameter chosen depends on the size and area of the muscle being treated. For example, to optimally reach your piriformis muscles which is deep in your bottom, a needle of 75mm long by 0.30mm diameter might be used; in comparison, when needling the small suboccipital muscles at the base of your skull, 13mm by 0.18mm needles are more appropriate.

So how does it help and how does it do it?

  • Localised pain relief & release of active muscle trigger points through stimulation of A-beta & C afferent fibres and endorphin release

  • Quicker healing & anti-inflammatory effects due to increased blood flow & release of inflammatory mediators

  • Down-regulation of the nervous and emotional system through activation of the reticular system, intralaminar nuclei of thalamus and the limbic system (responsible for memory of emotional pain responses); this is why many people often feel much calmer after needling

  • Pain relief and improved function in organs/body parts distal to the area being needled due to stimulation of shared neural pathways

When done by as well-trained physio, dry needling can be beneficial for relieving acute and chronic pain such as headaches, shoulder and neck pain, non-specific low back pain. It is also useful for post-recovery muscles soreness, pre-training to free up over-facilitated muscles and for general wellbeing.

And the difference between the terms 'acupuncture' and 'dry needling'?

Similar to the difference between 'Champagne' and 'sparkling', much of it comes down to nomenclature: Only practitioners who have have studied four years of the relevant Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) qualification can call themselves by the title of 'acupuncturists'. They will usually do a lot more needling for it's extra-segmental effects, such as placing a needle in your foot to help improve liver function and detoxification, or using it as a means to stimulate weight loss or fertility. Physios who 'dry needle' have undertaken a minimum (if not more) intensive 2-3 day course in addition to their degree and focus mainly on local effects, though most of the needling points used are the same as those used in traditional acupuncture.

Sissy is qualified in advanced dry needling and has been successfully using it to help her clients for the last six years. She can talk to you more about whether dry needling can help your pain, performance or rehabilitation here.