What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a therapeutic technique using filament needles to release trigger points, which are taut bands in muscles. Dry needling is sometimes referred to as Western Acupuncture.

How can dry needling be used? 

These taut bands can be a source of pain both locally and referred. Common examples are “knots” in the trapezius muscle between the neck and the shoulder or tightness in the deep gluteal muscles in the buttocks.  These “knots” or taut bands usually present as a consequence of overload of a limb or joint. A common cause for the trapezius muscle is long hours working at a laptop. Long distance runners will frequently complain of tight glutes as they increase their mileage; a frequent presentation in the clinic at the moment, with many people preparing for Dublin City Marathon.

It can be used to treat any condition where muscle pain or tightness is an issue, a few examples include:

Neck Pain

Back Pain

Tennis elbow

ITB syndrome

Anterior knee pain

Shin Pain and tightness

Calf pain and tightness

Dry needling as part of your treatment

Following a thorough assessment your chartered physiotherapist will identify the biomechanical issues causing the muscle overload. The cornerstone of treatment is addressing this issue, usually with a strengthening exercise programme.  However, dry needling can be used to release the overloaded muscles for relief of pain. Insertion of a needle leads to increased muscle relaxation, increased blood flow and additional electrical and chemical changes which assist in the healing process.

Is dry needling safe and what does it feel like?

It is very safe for most people (like all treatments there are certain conditions where it is contra-indicated). The size and type of needle is chosen dependent on the location of pain and type of injury. The needle is then inserted through the skin at various points, depending on what you want to achieve i.e. decrease pain/increase range of motion. You may feel a small pinprick and sometimes a muscle ache or muscle twitch. These sensations are all normal and often only experienced for a short period of time. The needles are left for approximately 1-3 minutes or until the symptoms have resolved. Through needling, tissue irritability is altered and an immediate increase in range of movement and pain can be achieved.

This is then followed by a strengthening programme to help eliminate the muscles being overloaded again. Dry needling on its own will effectively release the muscle giving short term relief but for the medium term “you must do your exercises”!!

Are there any risks?

There is very little risk associated with dry needling when performed properly. You may sometimes experience some pain following treatment. Some patients may have a little bruising or minor bleeding around the needle side. Uncommon side effects include minor aggravation of symptoms, drowsiness, headaches and nausea. Please inform you physiotherapist if you are feeling unwell or have a fear of needles.


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