What is it?
The American Physical Therapy Association describes dry needling as a ‘skilled intervention that uses a thin filiform needle (an acupuncture needle) to penetrate the skin and stimulate underlying myofascial trigger points, muscular and connective tissues for the management of neuromusculoskeletal pain and movement impairments.
What that means is that dry needling is used to treat trigger points, muscle tension, and scar tissue in muscles, lining of muscles and connective tissues. We also use dry needling to change the basic elements that your body perceives as painful. The overall goal of dry needling is to improve how your body functions at the most basic level – muscles, nerve and the tissues that connect them all – so that you can be more active.
What conditions can be treated by it.
Common conditions that may benefit from dry needling are neck pain, shoulder impingement, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, TMJ, knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and low-back pain. Dry needling adds to the “tools in the tool box” of a physical therapist.
The science behind it.
Treatment for myofascial trigger points: Trigger points are tight bands of tissues in muscles. This causes less circulation in that spot; which means there is less blood supply and oxygen, and a build up of unhealthy chemicals. This toxic environment is not only present in the muscle, but it extends to the nerves that make the muscle work too. When a therapist inserts a needle into the trigger point it activates the nerve which alerts the brain to send helper cells to improve the health in the local tissues around the needle and expedite the healing process.
Treatment for scar tissue, fascia and connective tissue: A Needle is inserted superficially around the areas of adhesions or restrictions. Needle rotation facilitates mechanicotransduction (the processes through which cells sense and respond to mechanical stimuli by converting them to signals that elicit specific cellular responses – in this case tissue relaxation).
Treatment for excessive muscle tension: Research has shown that dry needling activates fibroblasts (a cell in connective tissue which produces collagen and other fibers) through the mechanical manipulation of the needle which releases beneficial chemical and other pro-inflammation mediators.
But wait, isn’t inflammation bad?
Inflammation reactions are your body’s natural way of restoring your functionality and healing itself. This process is known as the inflammatory response. This response occurs when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat or any other cause. The damaged cells release chemicals (including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins) that cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, causing swelling. This helps isolate the foreign substance from further contact with body tissues. The chemicals also attract white blood cells called phagocytes that “eat” germs and dead or damaged cells. Basically, the therapist manipulates your body into restoring itself by triggering this inflammatory response when they rotate the needle after insertion into these areas of muscle tension.
Who should not have dry needling?
This isn’t for everyone, if fact those who are pregnant, afraid of needles, people taking blood thinners and those recovering from a recent surgery should not undergo this treatment. For the rest of us who need pain or movement restriction reduced, it may be a great option.
For more information, including references, please see: https://www.apta.org/StateIssues/DryNeedling/ClinicalPracticeResourcePaper/