If you are experiencing muscle soreness, a stiff neck, or mobility issues, trigger point dry needling may be for you! Dry needling is an alternative therapy that decreases pain in your muscles by deactivating a myofascial trigger point. Trigger points are tiny knots that develop in a muscle when it is injured or overworked. These spots are tender at the site and often refer pain to other areas. This treatment uses a dry needle (a needle without medicine) to deactivate trigger points in your muscle. Read on to learn what the treatment entails, how it is different from Acupuncture, as well as the benefits and side effects of this revolutionary treatment.
What is Dry Needling Therapy?
Dry needling is a skilled intervention in which a filament needle is inserted into the skin and muscle directly at a myofascial trigger point. If you are wondering what that means exactly, you have probably experienced pain in your back and referred to it as having a “knot.” That so-called “knot” is actually a tight and irritated band of muscle fiber. Because it has tightened to a point of forming a bump or nodule, it actually shortens the muscle and restricts your range of motion. This causes pain and inflammation and can have somewhat of a domino effect on your entire body. When muscle groups don’t function to their maximum capacity, other muscles will compensate and you will end up with more “knots” or myofascial trigger points. The treatment of muscles has the greatest effect on reducing the pain mechanisms in the nervous system.
Trigger point dry needling can be used in all phases of healing as well as a “maintenance” tool. The musculoskeletal system is under constant pressure from gravity, stress, work, etc. A regular exercise program combined with good posture can prevent many problems. If the pain returns, “tune-ups” are recommended to treat and prevent serious injuries.
There are a few different techniques that practitioners use. Sparrow pecking or pistoning involves the in-and-out insertion of a needle. The motion is fast and repetitive and stimulates all areas of an affected point. Another technique of dry needling involves a broader stimulation of the entire nervous system. The practitioner will insert needles around the area in pain, but not on the trigger point itself. The needles typically stay in place for longer with this method. The idea is to stimulate the surrounding nerves and muscle tissue in order to create more blood flow and release of tension in the actual trigger point itself.
Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture
At first glance, dry needling and acupuncture may look exactly alike. They both use thin, stainless steel needles. They both involve the insertion of the needles into the skin and they are both beneficial in the treatment of pain and ailments. So, how are they different?
For starters, Acupuncture originated in China (circa 6000 BCE). Since that time, the methods and evolution of the needles used have improved greatly. This ancient Chinese medicine technique has also gained a lot of traction in the Western world, to the point that many U.S. insurance policies now cover it. This ancient form of healing is rooted in Taoist philosophy and tradition. Practitioners would utilize meditation to observe energetic meridians in the body. Using the needles to stimulate specific energetic centers and trigger points, they would direct the flow of energy, releasing any blockages, and encouraging healing.
Dry needle therapy is similar to acupuncture in that the needles target specific trigger points, but the points are actual places of anatomic ailment (i.e. knots) rather than energetic meridians. This means that the target points are tangible and can actually be physically shown. That is not to say that energetic blockages are not real or harmful, but it would be a lot more difficult to show someone a photo of your Chi than it would be to show them a picture of your nodule or bump, caused by a muscle spasm.
For this reason, dry needling may be a bit easier to grasp in the Western world, where people tend to prefer science over spirituality. Performance and placement of dry needling are based on the understanding of neuroanatomy and the physiologic effects on the musculoskeletal system. It involves a thorough evaluation of the musculoskeletal system and identification of trigger points and tissue dysfunction. These areas are where the needles are placed.
In Western medicine, it is also far more common to directly treat the area of the body that is in pain, rather than looking at what may have been the origin. For example, when someone has an injured hip, Western medicine will likely involve targeting the muscles around the hip joint and mobilizing the joint itself. A doctor may prescribe pain medication or a steroid to combat inflammation. When an Eastern medicine practitioner treats a hip injury, he or she will not only aim to mobilize the injured area but will also incorporate breathing and meditation exercises, and perhaps stimulation of the energetic meridians that run through the second or Sacral Chakra.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of dry needling include but are not limited to the myofascial release within the neck, back, and shoulders. Dry needle therapy can also reduce headaches (such as migraines and tension-type headaches), foot pain (plantar fasciitis), and leg pain (sciatica, hamstring strains, calf tightness/spasms).
Athletes may enjoy the benefits of trigger point dry needling, as it is capable of increasing one’s range of motion and flexibility as well as providing relief of muscle pain and stiffness.
What are the side effects?
While the side effects of dry needle therapy are common, the majority of them pose no serious risk or long-term complications. The most important precaution for this treatment is the use of sterile needles and also the pre-treatment sterilization of the targeted area. Our Doctors of Physical Therapy use brand new needles out of a package at each point of service and dispose of the needles after use. They also use alcohol prep pads to sterilize your skin before beginning the treatment.
Aside from minor swelling, bruising, bleeding, and temporary soreness at the treatment site, you shouldn’t have much of an adverse reaction. The biggest risk of trigger point needle therapy is the contraction of bloodborne illnesses and/or diseases due to improper sanitation practices. It is more than okay to ask your practitioner to show you the brand new needle in the packaging prior to use and to make sure they are wiping your skin with alcohol.
Where can I go for Dry Needle Therapy?
If you are in the greater Boston metro area, LCG Boston can provide concierge dry needling support and services for any individual.