Dry needling & why it's so awesome
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Dry needling is one of my favorite manual therapy techniques to treat tough and stubborn soft tissue problems. I get asked on a daily basis what is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture, and what does dry needling actually do? So I thought I’d explain it the best I can here!
What’s the difference between acupuncture & dry needling?
Like acupuncture, dry needling uses acupuncture needles, however, it is used to put into soft tissue directly (muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia) as opposed to acupuncture meridian points.
Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine, which aims to unblock the meridian channels to unblock energy (chi). Dry needling is based on western medicine and aims to address soft tissue adhesions, trigger points, dense fascia, scar tissue, etc. directly. It is only used to address musculoskeletal issues, while acupuncture is used for a variety of ailments. Acupuncture tends to use more needles in a session as it follows a path to unblock, while dry needling may tend to focus just on the areas of difficulty.
So, what is dry needling? How does it work?
It is called dry needling as there is no injection, so the needle is ‘dry’. The naming is just used to differentiate the technique from injections.
Dry needling draws blood flow into the area using fine needles, thereby delivering oxygen, nutrients, removing waste, and relaxing the tissue (magnesium and calcium nutrients allow muscles to contract and relax). It is incredibly precise and a lot deeper than where my thumb or elbow can go!
Dry needling can involve moving the needling up and down which can elicit muscle twitches (which is nothing to be alarmed about) which can then relax the trigger points in soft tissue, thereby relaxing the area and improving blood flow. Another technique is gently twisting the needle to stretch the fascia around it and relieve tension pressure.
It is great at treating chronic and acute injuries; pain in shoulders, back, knee, hip, ankle, wrist, elbow – basically most muscular and soft tissue pain or spasm, even headaches and jaw pain. It can also help bring down inflammation and swelling.
Does it hurt?
Generally, dry needling doesn't ‘hurt’, often it is felt as pressure or as a heaviness feeling by my clients. Sometimes you can feel referral aches in other areas to the place being needled. If the needling hits trigger points and elicits spasms or twitches, it can feel like an involuntary spasm, which can come as a surprise rather than pain. Some people may be sore for a couple of days afterward and others may not feel sore at all. Some areas are more sensitive than others, like the calves or shins.