What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a treatment technique whereby a sterile, single-use, fine filament needles (similar to acupuncture needles) are inserted into the muscle. These filiform needles are very fine, short and don’t inject fluid into the body, hence the term “dry” needling.
This technique decreases muscular pain and improves function through the release of myofascial trigger points (commonly known as spasms or knots in the muscle). This restores a muscle’s natural ability to lengthen and shorten.
What is the Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?
Although there are similarities between the two techniques, the main difference is the theory behind why and how these techniques work. Dry needling’s primarily focused on reducing pain and restoring function through the release of myofascial trigger points (knots) in the muscle. In comparison, acupuncture focuses on relieving stress, pain and discomfort by opening up a person's energy flow or Chi.
What are Myofascial Trigger Points?
A myofascial trigger point, or knot in the muscle, is a group of muscle fibres that have shortened when activated but have not lengthened back to a relaxed state after use. At this location a sensitive nodule in the muscle develops and the remainder of the muscle tightens to compensate. The muscle fibres become so tight that they compress the capillaries (small blood vessels) and nerves that supply the muscle. As a result of all this, the muscle cannot move freely and does not receive the necessary blood flow to provide the muscle with oxygen and nutrients, or flush out additional acidic chemicals building up on the muscle.
The presence of a myofascial trigger point in a muscle can lead to discomfort upon touch, movement and stretching, decreased range of motion, and depending on the location, reduced mobility and headaches.
What causes Myofascial Trigger Points?
Although painful, these myofascial trigger point occur as a result of our body’s protective response. The following events can cause a myofascial trigger point:
Quick, sudden or unexpected movements;
Muscle injury/trauma – the muscle will tighten in an attempt to reduce the severity of an injury;
Change (often an increase) in one's regular activity or muscle overuse or overloading;
Poor posture and sitting for long periods without taking a break to stretch and move;
Sustained repetitive activity (lifting and moving heavy boxes);
Stress (acute or chronic);
Nutritional deficiencies (vitamin or mineral deficiencies);
Metabolic and endocrine conditions.
How Does Dry Needling Release Myofascial Trigger Points?
When the delicate filament needle inserts into the centre of a myofascial trigger point, the needle can be inserted and left in the muscle for a short period of time or it may be moved in an up and down motion. Both techniques can trigger a Local Twitch Response (LTR) which causes the muscle fibres around the needle to contract and relax rapidly. This results in the muscle relaxing (the knot releasing) and decompression of the local blood vessels and nerve supply.