Dry Needling | What is it? Does it Hurt? Will it work for me?

Dry Needling is a modality that is often used in conjunction with other soft tissue and skeletal treatments. Muscle Medicine Remedial Massage Therapists are trained in dry needling and use it as part of The Muscle Medicine Method.

So, what exactly is dry needling and why would we use it? Here are some answers to the top questions we get asked.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling uses a stainless-steel filament needle, like acupuncture needles to pierce the skin and the muscle fibres. It is referred to as 'dry needling' to differentiate it from hypodermic syringe needling, which injects wet substances into the tissues.

Where acupuncture focuses on energy lines to treat, dry needling targets the trigger points or knots in muscles and aims to ‘deactivate them’. The aim is to restore correct muscle function to damaged muscle tissues, reducing the chance of further damage.

Dry needling is rarely a treatment on its own, but a complementary modality used with other soft tissue and skeletal treatments, such as Remedial Massage and Physiotherapy.

If you want to know how dry needling can help you, keep reading.

How is it different from Acupuncture?

The similarities stop with the type of needles used. Where Acupuncture is based on energy lines or meridians from Chinese or Eastern philosophies, dry needling is based on anatomical targets.

Acupoints do not align with the Western knowledge of anatomical points, intended to unblock energy meridians and to help create balance in the body. Acupuncture is well known to assist in treating a range of physical, physiological and psychological problems.

Dry needling uses anatomy and western medical science. The insertion of a needle into the muscle filament is to affect the electrical and chemical communications that take place in the nervous system.

How does dry needling work?

The human body is a complex structure and there are still many unknowns, but the overarching evidence supports the positive effects it has on assisting to create pain relief and healing muscle tissues – but how?

Let’s delve into a bit of science.

When your body wants your muscle to move, a nerve impulse arrives at a junction which triggers the release of acetylcholine (ACh), this then jumps to the other side of the junction and triggers what we call a muscle action potential. A chemical called Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) comes straight in to destroy the ACh, so that the action potential is stopped, and we don’t end up on a loop.

This muscle action potential travels along a canal of the cell that penetrates into the muscle body, as it does it releases calcium ions change the structure of the muscle cell and allows two proteins to bind with each other, Myosin and Actin). This binding then allows for a contraction, the myosin heads bind and swivel and pull themselves along to create the muscle contraction. This is the Sliding Filament theory.

This is all fine when it works, but if there is some damage in the muscle tissue, things can go wrong.

The theory is that AChE isn’t doing its job and destroying the ACh which is triggering the muscle action potential. This causes an increase in calcium, which in turn causes a positive internal charge, resulting in chronic muscle shortening. This muscle shortening is what we know as a knot or trigger point.

OK, so how do we use dry needling to relieve the trigger points?

The needle penetrates the skin and the muscle causing a minute amount of damage or “lesion”, this sends a message to the body to send in the cells to repair the damage – an immune response. Often we will see a small red inflammation around the insertion point, showing us that the body is responding.

Once this occurs the muscle fibres start to relax, inflammation is reduced and circulation improves through the muscle fibres.

So what will you feel?

The needles are so fine most people don’t even feel these penetrating the skin. The anticipation of the prick, and often the guide tube touching the skin provokes more of a response than the needle itself!!

If you have a particularly tight or painful trigger point the ‘twitch response’ will be greater, this shows us the muscle was indeed in need of some repair. You may feel a short, intense feeling, similar to a light electric shock. This is what we are after, it is the response that helps create the therapeutic effect.

You may end up with some muscle soreness for 24-48 hours and it is advised to not use the targeted area for heavy activity immediately after. For example, if you have dry needling on your biceps, we advise you to avoid lifting heavy weights for the next 24 hours.

Keep reading if you want to know if dry needling would benefit you.

Why would my therapist use dry needling?

Dry needling is part of a remedial treatment. Usually, your therapist will start with manual treatment and identify a trigger point that is particularly deep, is difficult to access or simply stubborn. At this point, your therapist will discuss the use of needles with you, if this was not discussed earlier in the session. Your therapist will ensure you are comfortable with the use of needles before progressing.

If you present with an acute injury needling is likely to be discussed early on in your treatment plan to create a platform for the other modalities. It often allows your therapist to achieve faster results in acute scenarios.

If your therapist does discuss needling with you, it is likely to be the use of 3 – 8 needles during a manual treatment.

How safe is it?

Dry needling is 100% safe when practised with sound protocols, which we engage at Muscle Medicine. We use individually wrapped single-use needles. Our therapists use gloves, hand sanitiser and guide tubes so that they never come in contact with the needle shaft. Needles are immediately disposed of in a sharps container so no contact can be made once they are removed from the client.

A small number of people have allergic reactions to heavy metals, which may be sparked by the stainless-steel filament needle. This is why it is important that you declare any known allergies on your intake form when you first visit us.

At Muscle Medicine, our team have their Dry Needling certifications and are regularly taken through needling techniques and best practice by our lead therapist and founder, Coby du Preez.

Should I ask for needling?

There isn’t any need, as your therapist will assess your circumstances and use the best techniques to deliver sustainable results. If you have an ongoing injury that you have been dealing with and received dry needling or other treatments it is important to inform your therapist so they can make informed decisions on your current situation as well as previous treatments.

We pride ourselves on our ability to deliver sustained results by engaging a range of techniques and modalities.

The benefits of dry needling are multilayered and add to your treatment plan, we invite you to discuss these options with your therapist on your next visit.