What you need to know and questions to ask your doctor about dry needling.
by The Iowa Clinic on Thursday, May 25, 2017
Dry needling isn't a new physical therapy technique, but it is new to Iowa having just been passed as an approved treatment in 2016. So, what is it and how can it help you? The Iowa Clinic physical therapist, Tony Moore, PT, DPT, CMPT (Certified Manual Physical Therapist), CMTPT (Certified Manual Trigger Point Therapist) discusses five things you should know about dry needling.
What is it?
Dry needling is the use of filiform needles to stimulate myofascial trigger points, muscular tissues and connective tissues for the management of neuromusculoskeletal pain and movement impairments. At its core, dry needling is a technique used to get rid of trigger points, improve how well our muscles move and reduce pain by using a small needle to provide a precise treatment.
How is it different from acupuncture?
Aside from both using filiform needles, dry needling and acupuncture are very different. In acupuncture, needles are placed at precise points along interconnected pathways that map the whole body – including the head, trunk, and limbs. While in dry needling, needles are placed where taut bands are identified within a muscle that reproduces a patient's pain with palpation. This taut band is referred to as the myofascial trigger point and is the target for the needle.
Acupuncture was developed on the idea that illness or pain occurs when the body's vital energy cannot flow freely. The goal of placing needles into acupuncture points is to direct the flow of vital energy to trigger your body's healing response and restore physical, emotional and mental equilibrium. In dry needling, a needle is placed in a taut band with the intent of producing a Local Twitch Response (LTR). It's the LTR that leads to the resolution of this trigger point and therefore the reduction of myofascial pain. Myofascial pain is any pain that is derived from restrictions of the muscle tissue or its fascial layer of connective tissue that acts to surround and support the muscle.
Does it hurt?
Dry needling produces a unique response in the tissues being treated. The filiform needles are thin and solid – making them able to penetrate the skin with little-to-no sensation. When the LTR is achieved, the resulting action is an involuntary contraction of the treated muscle. This can be perceived as uncomfortable – much like a muscle cramp. Duration of the LTR can vary but is typically short-lived – lasting only a few seconds. Post-treatment soreness is common and similar to soreness experienced in post-strength training. Most often this is resolved within 24 hours and soreness can be reduced with ice, heat and gentle stretching.
How does it fit into my rehab?
Dry needling is one of many tools a physical therapist might use during an individual's rehab program. Only patients determined to be appropriate candidates for dry needling will receive the treatment. There are several contraindications to consider, such as bleeding disorders, active infections, and fear of needles.
What is it used to treat?
Dry needling can be used to treat a multitude of diagnosis and creates a significant reduction in myofascial pain. It is also an effective method for addressing scar tissue mobility impairments and restrictions of the connective tissue that make up our tendons.