What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a contemporary term and treatment designed primarily to ease muscular pain. Its premise is primarily musculoskeletal and is labelled as Medical Acupuncture. During dry needling, the practitioner inserts one or several fine stainless filiform needles into the skin and pain area of the body with a strong stimulation – and no fluid injection, thus the term “dry needling”.

What happens during a dry needling session?

The practitioner places needles into the trigger points (muscle knot, or hyper-irritated muscle fibre bundles within muscles), or acupuncture points, with an aim to help release the knot and relieve any muscle pain or spasm. The needles will generally remain in the area for a limited amount of time, generally between  5-15 minutes, after which the practitioner will continue the treatment using a soft tissue release modality of their choice (deep tissue massage, myofascial release, functional release etc.)

What is the difference between Acupuncture (TCM) and dry needling?

Both acupuncture and dry needling use the same thin stainless steel needles and essentially the same technique. For both practices, needles are inserted into the skin and muscle tissue to improve muscle function and treat pain.

The practice of TCM acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat a wide range of conditions and now has solid research for its effectiveness, while dry needling is relatively new, having been adopted in the last couple of decades by Western healthcare practitioners.

The main differences between TCM acupuncture and dry needling are that while TCM acupuncture does relieve pain and other discomforts, TCM acupuncture principally operates by opening a person’s energy flow or Qi, by releasing endorphins corresponding to the Zang Fu organs (Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach, Spleen, heart Smaller Intestine, Urinary Bladder, Kidney, Pericardium, Triple Warmer, Gallbladder, Liver and the posterior and anterior lines Du and Ren, otherwise known as ” channel theory’. Dry needling on the other hand does not include this organ system, and is based strictly on the musculoskeletal system, thereby stimulating inflammation, trigger points or muscles, but may also at times include non-trigger point techniques, to help treat the central nervous system. That being said, instead of inserting needles into the area of pain, the needles inserted would be further away from the area of pain, as opposed to directly on the location of the pain.

In addition, while most acupuncture sessions may typically last 45-60 minutes, and use many points, dry needling generally focuses on the pain area for a short amount of time only (5-15 minutes), and may also incorporate the use of an electro-stimulation device on the points, in order to get a deeper and more significant releasing or stimulating effect on the needled points.

What are the benefits of dry needling?

People who experience myofascial pain that has not been relieved with traditional treatments, such as medications and physical therapy, may benefit from dry needling.

Dry needling is considered a minimally invasive treatment. This means that, while the provider does insert needles, they do not go in very far and they do not stay in the muscle for long periods. People who get relief from dry needling may cut back or eliminate their pain medicine over time.

Dry needling can also improve the chances of success from other therapies. For example, the procedure could help people feel less muscle stiffness and pain during their massage sessions, increasing their odds of positive results from the therapy.

Dry needling and pregnancy:

More and more research is being done on acupuncture and its use during pregnancy. Acupuncture is relatively safe for most pregnancies and severe reactions and complications are rare. Mild complications can arise, such as pain and swelling at the needle site, for example), but they are not long-lasting. There is some discussion over certain acupuncture points to avoid during pregnancy because they can lead to outcomes like miscarriage, preterm labour and premature rupture of membranes, but this is basically on par with groups that didn’t receive acupuncture. Does the trimester matter? Not necessarily. Practitioners may treat patients before pregnancy, during all three trimesters and postpartum. It is advised to speak to your practitioner and speak to your doctor, before treatment, to see if there are any reasons you should not get acupuncture, however.

Dry needling