All Your Dry Needling Questions, Answered

Ana Coan

A beneficial treatment for patients presenting with acute or chronic pain, impaired mobility, or muscular tightness, dry needling is often performed alongside remedial massage or physiotherapy. But is it painful, is it hygienic, and isn’t it just the same as acupuncture? (No, yes, no.) We discuss these dry needling questions – and all the others we’re frequently asked – below. Read on to discover the important role of dry needling in fast-tracking your recovery, and to understand exactly what it is you’re in for.

How does dry needling work?

In dry needling, a (fine, sanitary) needle is inserted into a myofascial trigger point to stimulate an involuntary local twitch response, which causes the muscle to release and relax. In some cases, mechanical stimulus of the needle may also be used. The successful therapeutic outcome of dry needling is to stimulate neurological sensors in the body to disrupt the contracted nature of the muscle. This can result in relief from tension, freer movement, and a reduction in pain. The technique can also cause positive local biomedical changes and result in the increase of blood flow, which in turn promotes faster recovery from your injury.

When is dry needling used?

Dry needling is performed in conjunction with remedial massage or physiotherapy, and is suitable for treating most musculoskeletal conditions. These include: sprained ankles, back or neck pain, tendonitis, headache, joint pain, jaw pain, shoulder/ rotator cuff pain and impingement, bursitis, sciatica, over-use injuries, RSI, shin splits, sports injuries, ITB, tennis elbow, knee injuries, pelvic pain, plantar fasciitis, and general muscle tightness and cramping.

How does dry needling complement massage/ physiotherapy?

Dry needling is a treatment that goes deeper than manual trigger point therapy. It can also be used as an alternative to massaging an area if it is too painful. Adding dry needling to your remedial massage or physiotherapy treatment can provide faster relief from pain and muscle tightness, increase your range of motion, and speed up your recovery.

Will it hurt?

Dry needling may be slightly uncomfortable at first, but it should not be painful. You may experience a slight prick/tap when the ultra-fine needle is inserted, often followed by a twitch response. This is caused by a contraction of the muscle when the needle stimulates the myofascial trigger point/ knot in the muscle. Most patients will also experience a dull ache sensation in the area when the needle meets the trigger point.

Is dry needling hygienic?

Yes. Dry needling is performed with sterile single-use fine filament hypodermic needles (acupuncture needles).

How long are needles left in?

The needles may be placed deeply or superficially, depending which area of the body is being treated. They may be left in between 5 to 7 minutes, or up to 15 minutes with the occasional manipulation or winding of the needle.

Who is dry needling not suitable for?

Dry needling may not be suitable for you. It is contraindicated for:

• Patients with Lymphodema
• Those with compromised immune systems (for example due to cancer, hepatitis, HIV)
• Those with vascular disease
• Diabetes
• Pregnancy
• Those with a metal allergy
• Patients on Anticoagulants (blood thinners)

How is dry needling different from acupuncture?

The main difference between dry needling and acupuncture is that acupuncture treats to alter the flow of Qi energy based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM follows the theory that Qi circulates along 12 major pathways along the body called meridians linked to a specific organ system. Dry needling, on the other hand, is based on Western anatomical and neurophysical principles relating to the trigger points – tight bands of muscle found within a muscle or muscle group.

Call us on 9650 2220 to discuss whether dry needling may be an appropriate addition to your remedial massage or physiotherapy appointment. 

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