If you suffer from muscle pain and soreness, dry needling could be the perfect treatment for you. While it looks similar to acupuncture, dry needling involves inserting a needle into a muscle knot, which releases tension in the surrounding muscle. The treatment also alters pain perception. It’s a soft tissue technique that’s used to treat myofascial pain, and it’s rising in popularity in the world of physical therapy. Interested in learning more about dry needling? We’re covering how it works, plus the benefits and risks of this technique.
What Is Dry Needling & How Does It Work?
Dry needling is a therapeutic technique where needles are inserted into trigger points or tender bands of muscle located within larger muscles. The needles stimulate your muscles, which causes them to contract or twitch. This helps relieve pain and increase your range of motion. Dry needling is primarily used by trained healthcare professionals such as physical therapists, chiropractors, and medical doctors.
It’s a relatively new treatment, developed in the 1980s, and is typically used as part of a larger pain management plan that may also include exercising, stretching, massage, and other techniques. It can help relieve pain, ease acute inflammation, and promote healing in the body.
Dry needling stimulates a trigger point (or muscle knot), which can cause widespread pain. A knot can be tender when you touch it and may cause pain in other areas of your body. Dry needling disrupts your body’s status quo, bringing new blood into the area and stimulating the release of endorphins. Endorphins act as natural pain killers to help relieve discomfort as your body responds to the needle and begins breaking up your knots.
Dry Needling vs Acupuncture: What’s the Difference?
Both dry needling and acupuncture involve the insertion of fine filament needles into specific parts of the body, but that’s essentially all they have in common. While dry needling shares some similarities with acupuncture, it’s based on different principles and focuses on treating musculoskeletal issues.
In acupuncture, needles are inserted into points along meridian lines. These lines represent the body’s organs, and are based on ancient Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is based on the idea of balance and restoring proper flow of energy throughout the body.
Therapeutic dry needling is based on Western medicine, human anatomy, and neurophysiological principles. It’s used to treat chronic and acute pain without the need for medication, surgical procedures, etc. It uses strong stimulation on the muscles to get them to release, whereas acupuncture does not use strong stimulation and focuses on naturally healing the body.
5 Benefits of Dry Needling
- Reduces Pain: By targeting trigger points and tight muscles, dry needling can help reduce pain and discomfort associated with various conditions like muscle strains, tension headaches, back pain, and sports injuries. On top of that, chemical changes within the muscle and associated nerves can block the transmission of pain messages to the brain.
- Boosts Blood Flow: The insertion of needles can increase blood circulation to the treated area. Improved blood flow can aid in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, promoting healing and tissue repair.
- Promotes Healing: Dry needling creates tiny injuries in a dysfunctional muscle, and as a result, the body responds with an inflammatory response in the area. This is a natural process which stimulates healing through collagen and protein formation and can help restore a muscle’s normal function. The needle can relax the muscles, diminish inflammation, and trigger a healing response.
- Muscle Relaxation: Dry needling can help release tension and knots in muscles, leading to muscle relaxation. This can improve flexibility, range of motion, and overall muscle function.
- Potential for Chronic Pain Management: For individuals dealing with chronic pain conditions, dry needling can offer a drug-free approach to managing their symptoms and improving their quality of life. Dry needling is a minimally invasive procedure compared to some other treatment options for musculoskeletal issues. It doesn’t involve the use of medications or surgical interventions.
4 Risks of Dry Needling
- Side Effects: There are a number of side effects that can happen with dry needling, including soreness, bleeding, fainting, fatigue, and bruising. They can last from a few hours up to a couple of days. Most of the side effects are minor and don’t cause significant injury or distress.
- Infection: If non-sterile needles are used, there’s a risk of infection with dry needling. This risk is significantly decreased as long as you work with a licensed and trained healthcare professional. Practitioners should use sterile equipment and disposable, single-use needles for each patient.
- Organ Damage or Nerve Injury: Organ damage and nerve injury are rare but dangerous side effects that can occur accidentally with dry needling. Organ damage can result from a needle that punctures a major organ. This may include pneumothorax (punctured lung) from needles that are inserted into the upper back or chest area.
- It’s Not Suitable for Everyone: It’s important to note that while dry needling can be beneficial for many individuals, it may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as bleeding disorders, skin infections, or needle phobias, may not be candidates for dry needling. Pregnant women should also not participate in dry needling. It’s essential to discuss your specific condition and health history with a qualified practitioner to determine if it’s a suitable option for you.
Dry needling can be super beneficial if you deal with muscle tension and pain. Talk about it with your health care professional to see if it might be the right fit for you.
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