Dry needling is a modern treatment technique used by manual therapists. It involves inserting a thin needle into muscles, triggering rapid and prolonged relaxation.
Dry needling: not the same as acupuncture Dry needling uses a 'dry' acupuncture needle, with no injection of fluids into the muscle. In classical acupuncture, multiple needles are often placed superficially in the body for a longer duration. Dry needling employs a similar needle, briefly stimulating a 'trigger point' in the muscle. It's not an 'energetic' treatment as seen in acupuncture.
What is a 'trigger point'? A trigger point is a knotted area within a muscle causing localized tenderness and often referred pain in a specific zone. Below is an example of lower back pain radiating from a buttock muscle.
Trigger points can manifest as:
- Pain and stiffness locally in the muscle, along with referred pain
- Restrictions in associated joints
How are trigger points developed?
- Acute: e.g., from an incorrect movement or accident
- Chronic: due to prolonged poor posture
- Long-term strain on areas like the arm, shoulder, and/or neck from computer use
- Overuse and/or sports injuries
- Muscle tissue spasms, as seen in meniscus injury or hernia
- Prolonged immobilization due to, for instance, a cast or sling
- Psychological factors such as stress and depression
- Foot abnormalities or leg length discrepancies post-bone fracture
- Sleep deprivation
- Tight clothing or improper carrying of a backpack or handbag
What does the manual therapist do? The therapist begins by analyzing your complaints through discussion and targeted examinations. They then explore muscles potentially causing your pain and specifically search for trigger points.
What is the treatment focus? The treatment aims to 'deactivate' these trigger points. By precisely needling these points, they are found and deactivated. Consequently, the muscles quickly and enduringly relax. The therapist often treats multiple muscles in your arm, leg, or along your spine, and several sessions may be necessary.