Andrew O'Neill - Chartered Physiotherapist specializing in Chronic pain.
QUICK NOTE: At TC Physiotherapy we have three clinicians all trained in Dry Needling. We have all done separate training as to bring the best ideas in the industry and share them with each other. It is the most skillful form of treatment as you are dealing with a tiny needle and very little room for error, So never blame the therapy maybe blame the practitioner if not successful.
Why Does Dry Needling Work?
You may have heard about the rather unusual treatment Physiotherapists use to relieve all types of muscle pain from the head to the toe, called Dry Needling. A process in which needles are placed into specific muscles around the body. Sounds kind of crazy really, allowing somebody ‘poke you’ with a needle into a muscle! I assure you it is isn’t and will explain why. So the important stuff, what exactly is it?, How does it work? Is it the same as acupuncture? And most importantly, is it safe?
Too often physiotherapists are quick to jump on new ‘state of the art treatment modalities’. Unfortunately, these are used for a while on patients with varying results and then tossed aside when something better or more innovative comes along, only for the same process to occur again. Don’t get me wrong, some of these treatments such as ultrasound or laser have a place with certain patients in trying to reduce pain, unfortunately, we are not overly sure why they work for some people and not others. Some of the positive outcomes we see may just come down to the placebo effect. Dry Needling, however, is not a new ‘sexy’ and ‘innovative’ treatment, it has been around since the 1940’s. Research into the area is revealing it is very effective in treating painful muscular trigger points.
What are these muscular trigger points?
A trigger point is a taut band or ‘knot’ of skeletal muscle located within a larger muscle group. Trigger points can be tender to the touch, and touching a trigger point may cause pain to other parts of the body leading to difficulty performing everyday tasks. When a person has painful muscles and trigger points, it is sometimes called myofascial pain syndrome. We can find these trigger points all over our body depending on the type of pain and stress being experienced by a person. From experience here in our clinic, they can be especially useful in reducing neck/ shoulder pain and low back pain.
How does it work?
The technique uses a tiny “dry” needle, one without medication or injection, inserted through the skin into areas of the muscle. Simply put when the needle hit the ‘taut’ band of muscle or ‘knot’ it releases it. When it releases there is an increase in blood flow through the muscle, with that comes an increase in oxygen flowing through the muscle. All this combines to relax the muscle in question and allow it to move more efficiently and pain-free. This is totally different to acupuncture. Acupuncture is based on Chinese medicine and the needles are really only placed on top of the skin.
Is it safe?
Dry needling is a specialized treatment for muscular trigger points provided by highly trained physiotherapists who have undergone specific training in the area and who are regulated to provide the treatment. These physiotherapists must have an excellent knowledge base in human anatomy. Hence, they will only administer the treatment to specific parts of the body. So, when carried out by a physiotherapist who has undergone this specific training it is perfectly safe. Remember, this is treatment adjunct, and is usually combined with other techniques including specific exercises, to manage muscular pain. It is very effective in treating pain but not so much the root cause of your pain. Your physiotherapist can perform a thorough evaluation to help determine if you are a good candidate for this treatment as part of a program designed to reduce your pain and improve your function.
Now that you have become informed, you can see it’s not a scary treatment. It is an evidence-based therapy backed and researched by Western Medicine showing to have impressive results. Of course, you will have to remember that this treatment alone will likely not cure you, but that you may need to fix imbalances with corrective exercises. But getting “poked” maybe that thing you need to get you over that hump and get you straight on the road to recovery!