In recent years, dry needling has become a very popular treatment, utilised by physiotherapists, remedial massage therapists as well as osteopaths amongst other professions.
It is a very effective technique for the treatment of tight muscles, chronic pain, tendon issues and joint pain.
Many clients love it because it is quick and efficient and can help alleviate pain much faster than just manual techniques like remedial massage.
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A Brief History of Dry Needling and Trigger Points
Initial observations published by John Kellgren and Sir Thomas Lewis in 1938 found that when saline was injected into a muscle, pain and tenderness can often be referred to different locations on the body, related to the muscle.
In 1942, Janet Travell and colleagues coined the term “trigger points” and trigger point therapy.
In their publications, they used hypodermic needles instead of acupuncture needles as they were experimenting with injecting a local anaesthetic into muscles (later referred to as “wet needling”).
Interest then spread and we have today, what is known as dry needling – where there is no injection of any solution, just the insertion of the needles into the trigger points (tight bands of muscles).
Dry needling can also be referred to as intramuscular stimulation or myofascial trigger point dry needling.
Although nowadays, most therapists use acupuncture needles it is different from acupuncture. Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese medicine and is based on different philosophies and has a lot more training involved around diagnosing and treating holistic health patterns within the body.
How Does It Work?
Dry Needling is a musculoskeletal technique which is administered by a qualified and experienced practitioner. It involves inserting an acupuncture needle into taut bands within muscles.
It works by opening up calcium ion channels so that calcium flushes out and potassium flushes into the muscle with each twitch.
Calcium is what sustains contraction and potassium is what initiates relaxation within the muscle.
The effects of dry needling compared with trigger point therapy or remedial massage last are that it can last much longer as the therapy changes the internal chemistry of the muscle.
The anti-nociceptive (pain relieving) benefit of this process is due to a decrease of adrenalin in the brain and an increase in the spinal cord. This is paired with spikes in adenosine at the site of the needle, in the spinal cord and the brain.
Of course there is also increased blood flow to the muscles which is what is believed to be the issue in ischemic (low blood flow) trigger points.
The best results of needling are the following days and this therapy is not suited to be used on the day of competition unless we are wanting to decrease the performance of a muscle.
What Can I Expect From A Dry Needling Session?
The therapy is relatively painless and insertion of the needle is rarely felt. Some people can feel the plastic guide tube which is pushed against the skin which the needle sits in.
Usually, the needle is flicked and then pushed in and out of the muscle. The reason for this is to elicit a twitch response from the muscle or the bare minimum and deep ache which fades within seconds.
Usually 3-4 twitches is enough and the needle is taken out and out in a sharps container where is will never be used again This whole process usually is finished in under a minute.
Sometimes after needling there and be something called post needling soreness which is a dull ache which may be present the day of treatment and this is normal.
How is Electro-Dry Needling Different?
In Electro-Dry Needling, two needles are inserted into the muscle, tendon, joint or either side of the nerve pathway. Alligator clips from an electro needling machine are then applied to the needles and depending what the desired outcome is a frequency is set and machine gradually turned up. The most common thing that happens is that the muscle will twitch involuntarily.
When we compare this with manual dry needling which has around 4 twitches, electro-dry needling requires the needles to be stimulated for a few minutes. The amount of twitches using electro-dry needling can be in the hundreds.
It is easy to control the strength of the twitch as it is controlled by a dial and the speed (frequency) can be of importance when treating different conditions.
Electro-dry needling has been shown to have even greater effects of pain relief, mostly due to its ability to communicate and down regulate pain modulating centres in the brain and raise the threshold of pain at the spinal cord.
This therapy can be extremely effective for tight muscles, atrophied or wasted muscles.
It differs from dry-needling in that it can also treat tendon pain from overuse (RSI), nerve pain and loss of sensation in the skin effectively.
What If I’m Scared of Needles?
If you are scared of needles, you can still benefit from this treatment. We also use something called an electro-pen which basically does the same as electro needling but without the needle.
The electro-pen is applied to superficial muscles and can even be applied directly to nerves for nerve pain, nerve damage and to improve the firing of muscles where there may have been injury or stroke.
Article by Samuel Minkin
Edited by Melanie Yeoh.
If you would like to learn more about Electro-Dry Needling or experience a session, come and see Samuel Minkin at Sydney Remedial Massage.
Just book under Musculoskeletal Therapy or book in for your 20 minute Pain Relief Session today.
Health fund rebates can be claimed under myotherapy for most health funds.
Dry needling is also available in sessions with Jerry Gobel.
If you would like to book a session, please call us on 02 8021 8430 or click here to book online.