Dry Needling And How It Can Help Heal Injuries, Aches And Pains

An expert weighs in on the benefits, risks and how it’s different to acupuncture.

While being poked with something sharp doesn’t sound super appealing, dry needling (AKA ‘trigger point dry needling’ or ‘intramuscular stimulation’) has tongues wagging on the fitness scene thanks to its impressive ability to reduce muscle soreness and treat injuries.

If you’re squeamish about needles (or know you’re not able to tolerate acupuncture), this treatment might not be for you. But, if you’re unfussed about needles, dry needling is well worth looking into.

While research into this relatively new technique is still emerging, some sports injury experts are already speaking highly of its advantages.

“Dry needling is a technique that has been utilised by health practitioners since the 1980s. It is highly effective on sore muscles, hence why it is very popular with athletes and fitness enthusiasts,” says osteopath and founder of Living Health Group sports injury clinic Dr Lisa Gadd.

Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know about dry needling.

What is dry needling and how is it performed?

“Dry needling is essentially a technique where a practitioner will insert a thin, sterile needle into a tight muscle,” says Dr Gadd. This action causes a “twitch response” which helps to remove any tightness or “knots” in the muscle.

When performing dry needling, “the needle only stays in the muscle for up to one minute as that is all that is needed for the brain to respond to it,” says Dr Gadd.

How does dry needling work?

In a nutshell, dry needling works by triggering a healing response in the body. “[Dry needling] causes a very minor injury to the muscle, which speeds up the healing process due to the increase in blood flow around the area to help it heal. That’s because when there is an injury that needs to be healed in your body, blood flow increases, which promotes faster healing and a reduction in pain,” says Dr Gadd.

During dry needling, thin, sterile needles are inserted into muscles. Image: Shutterstock.

What’s the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?

Like acupuncture, dry needling involves the insertion of fine needles into muscles. “Acupuncture is a technique used in Chinese medicine and their approaches are very similar in that both insert a needle to cause a minor injury, which in turn stimulates healing,” says Dr Gadd.

However, dry needling and acupuncture techniques differ in a number of ways.

Needle insertion duration
“With dry needling, the needle may only stay in for a minute, however with acupuncture, you usually rest for a longer period of time with the needles in the correct pressure points,” explains Dr Gadd.

Pressure point sites
“Acupuncture needles go into pressure points that correlate with a person’s qi, which is believed to be a person’s life force. The idea is to help unblock the areas that are making you feel pain ie. an acupuncturist may put a needle in a person’s foot to relieve their back pain,” says Dr Gadd.

Depth of needle insertion
“With dry needling, we want to achieve a stronger effect on the musculoskeletal tissues, triggering a contraction and relaxation response of the muscle that may be causing your pain. The needle is likely to go in deeper [than during acupuncture], and it will often be positioned right into the offending muscle, knot or ache,” says Dr Gadd.

The benefits of dry needling

Dry needling can be an effective treatment for a range of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries as well as for general maintenance and improvement. According to Dr Gadd, the benefits of dry needling include:

  • Reducing muscle pain or tightness
  • Improving muscle mobility and range of motion
  • Promoting tissue healing and restoring normal tissue function
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Boosting circulation

What are the risks or downsides of dry needling?

If you’re wondering whether dry needling is safe, Dr Gadd says the answer is generally yes. But, like with many treatments, there are some possible risks to be aware of.

“Some risks and complications from dry needling include a risk of infection (which is rare due to the use of sterile, disposable needles), bruising, numbness or tingling, and when a needle is placed close to the chest wall, there is a rare possibility of a collapsed lung. All risks should be discussed with the patient and practitioner prior to treatment beginning,” says Dr Gadd.

Is dry needling painful?

As the needles used during dry needling are “very thin,” Dr Gadd says the treatment itself generally shouldn’t hurt. However, you may experience some soreness post-treatment that may last up to 24 hours.

Who is dry needling suitable for?

To be a suitable candidate for dry needling, Dr Gadd says clients must be comfortable with the needling treatment process. If you’re all good with this, Dr Gadd recommends the treatment for anyone suffering from:

  • Tight muscles
  • Acute back spasms
  • Chronic pain
  • Hip bursitis
  • ‘Tennis elbow’ or ‘Golfer’s elbow’
  • Tendinopathy

Source @womenshealth.com.au: Read more at : womenalive.org

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