Common questions: dry needling

You’ve got a sore, tight spot in your calf that feels tender when you rub it. You’ve probably got other aches and pains in the vicinity too so you come to see your physio for some treatment to improve your comfort. 

And that’s when your crazy physio gets out some sharp needles and suggests stabbing you in the calf with them! 

How on earth will that help? 

Dry needling definitely sounds weird, but it can provide surprising relief from some musculoskeletal conditions. Here are the answers to some of the common questions we’re asked about it.

What is dry needling? 

Dry needling is a musculoskeletal treatment where fine, sterile needles are inserted into a tender ‘knotted’ spot in a muscle to create a twitch that releases the tension and improves circulation to that area. 

Why is it called dry needling? 

Because the needle is dry. 

In many parts of medicine, hollow needles are simply the delivery mechanism for a medicine like a vaccination or insulin to treat diabetes. 

In dry needling, the needles are solid and they are the treatment. There’s no ‘wet’ substance injected. The treatment benefits come from the needle’s careful placement to release myofascial trigger points and enable blood flow. 

What is a myofascial trigger point? 

A myofascial trigger point is a sensitive, tight spot in a muscle fibre that may make your muscle feel weak and can hinder your movements. Trigger points may form after injury or overuse, limiting the flow of nutrient-rich blood to the area. 

Factors that make you more likely to develop a myofascial trigger point include:

  • Getting older
  • Injury
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Poor posture
  • Muscle overuse
  • Ongoing stress, anxiety or depression
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Poor sleep
  • Joint problems or hypermobility.

What does dry needling do?

Dry needling involves inserting a needle directly into a trigger point. That causes a twitch response that ultimately releases the muscle, which in turn improves blood flow and aids recovery from any related injuries or conditions.

Does dry needling hurt? 

The needles are so incredibly fine that you don’t usually feel them being inserted, though you may feel a brief, sharp sensation when the muscle twitches. 

Often dry needling feels quite relaxing, though it may feel a little tender afterwards. 

Overall, dry needling might feel strange or uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt. Dry needling should be done by a trained therapist though – don’t try this at home. 

What conditions does dry needling help? 

At Sycamore Health, we may recommend dry needling as part of a treatment plan for conditions like: 

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Lower back pain
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Bursitis
  • Joint problems
  • Whiplash associated disorder
  • Chronic neck pain. 

Is dry needling the same as acupuncture? 

The needles are the same, but the underlying rationale is quite different. 

Acupuncture is rooted in Eastern medicine where it’s used to restore energy flow and balance. 

Dry needling, in contrast, has grown out of a Western scientific tradition and is used to reduce pain and increase mobility. 

Is dry needling suitable for everyone? 

Dry needling may not be recommended if you:

  • Are in the first trimester of pregnancy
  • Have recently had surgery
  • Have a blood-clotting disorder
  • Are taking blood-thinning medication
  • Are deathly-scared of needles! And we mean terrified! 

How can Sycamore Health help? 

If you have ongoing musculoskeletal pain, then please come to see us. Our physiotherapists will conduct a full assessment to determine the cause of your pain and then recommend a program of treatment to relieve your symptoms and strengthen your body. 

That may include dry needling alongside other treatments such as tailored exercises, ultrasound or massage. 

Book an appointment today.

All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.

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