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What Is Dry Needling And How Does It Work?

dry-needling1Some of you may have heard about dry needling as a minimally invasive technique designed to help relieve painful areas in the limbs, neck and lower back. Here at SPC we are all fully certified in the use of needling for a wide range of lower limb conditions. What is dry needling and how does it work? Thanks for asking.

Dry needling is a treatment that involves a very thin needle being pushed (gently!) through the skin in order to stimulate a trigger point. Dry needling is used to release tight muscle bands associated with trigger point, or hard ‘knots’ within a muscle which may be causing pain over a large area.

Trigger points can develop during occupational, recreational or sports activities when muscle use exceeds muscle capacity and normal recovery is disturbed. Dry needling differs from other types of physical therapy because it focuses on stimulating these trigger points and releasing the tension in order to alleviate pain.

Dry needling can be an effective means of pain relief when dealing with myofascial pain syndrome, or the presence of painful trigger points and muscles. Myofascial trigger points are a common type of pain. The word myofascial means muscle tissue (myo) and the connective tissue in and around it (fascial). These trigger points are usually the result of a muscle injury, such as common running injuries or repetitive strain. They are painful when pressed on and can create pain in another area as well, which is called referred pain.

Dry needling is different than acupuncture, which is intended to unblock energy meridians and help create balance within the bodily system. While acupuncture focuses on addressing the flow of energy around the body and bodily organs, dry needling focuses on stimulating a specific trigger point that is leading to pain and disability.

How Does Dry Needling Work?

Here are the basic steps of deep dry needling therapy:

1. When using dry needling techniques for the treatment of trigger points, your Podiatrist will palpate the target muscle for a taut band (or area of tense muscles) and identify the spot, thereby confirming the trigger point that needs to be treated.

2. The needle is typically in a tube and it is fixed with the non-needling hand against the trigger point using a pincer grip or flat palpation depending on the location and orientation of the muscle. Palpation is when the Podiatrist feels around with their fingers or hands to pinpoint areas of tenderness. With the needling hand, the needle is gently loosened from the tube and the top of the needle is tapped or flicked by the Podiatrist, allowing the needle to penetrate the skin.

3. When the needle has located the trigger point, as suggested by the local twitch response of the affected muscles, the physical therapist will focus on this specific area or other neighbouring areas by inserting more needles if necessary or using some gentle massage.

4. The needle will be directed toward the remaining trigger points until local twitch responses have stopped. The needle will be kept in place for about 60-90 seconds and then withdrawn. If the trigger point still appears to be sensitive after the first round, the needle will be placed in the same area again for 2 minutes.

5. When the needle is withdrawn from the skin, pressure is then applied directly to the skin over the insertion in order to aid in the prevention of possible swelling or soreness.

Is Dry Needling Safe?

Dry needling is appropriate for nearly all patients who do not have a significant needle phobia or other anxiety about being treated with needles. Like any type of therapy, dry needling may deliver unintended side effects, such as minor pain at the stop of needle insertion, muscle soreness, fatigue and bruising. In the hands of a skilled clinician, dry needling is a safe and effective treatment option and the patient will see benefits in range of motion and joint use right away.

It’s normal that it may take several dry needling therapy sessions before the muscle is fully functional again. This is because trigger points are located under deep layers of muscles, so it typically takes several sessions for the changes to take full effect. But patients will typically notice the difference right after each treatment.

Dry needling is also known to be relatively painless. Generally, the needle insertion is not felt and the local twitch response only provokes a very brief pain response, feeling more like a shock or cramping sensation. A local twitch response is a therapeutic response that serves as a sign that the needle has hit the trigger point, so it’s actually a good and desirable reaction.

It all sounds like it might be painful or you’ll walk out covered in blood. Not at all. Dry needling is truly not as painful or as horrible as it sounds. Rarely does this draw any blood or elicit any serious pain. We have had some fantastic outcomes when using this technique and it is such a simple way to address annoying or niggling type of injuries which are commonplace in your lower limbs.

This alternative therapy is also used to treat dysfunctions in skeletal muscle, fascia and connective tissue. It reduces and restores impairments of body structure and function, leading to improved activity and participation. If you are interested but still have yet to be convinced on its painlessness, ask your Podiatrist to do a needle on themselves as proof, particularly if you see Narelle who is always jabbing herself for various aches and pains.

Thanks for reading.
Until next time,

ScottPodiatrist Engadine


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Shop 2/17-19 East Parade
Sutherland, NSW 2232

Tel: 02 9542 3491