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Science behind Dry Needling

What is dry needling?

The treatment technique called dry needling is defined by the American Physical Therapy Association as a skilled intervention performed by a physical therapist that uses thin needles to penetrate the skin and stimulate underling myofascial trigger points, muscles, and connective tissue for the management of acute and chronic pain and movement impairments. No injection is involved. It is used in conjunction with physical therapy techniques to address acute and chronic pain.

The needles are similar to those used in acupuncture which are much thinner, and they are solid and not hollow. The duration of that the needles are left in the targeted tissue varies based on the technique.  On the short side of things the needles can be used to piston in the targeted tissue for less than 30 seconds or on the prolonged side of things needles can be left in for 20 minutes at the absolute longest. Dry needling may involve superficial or deep needle placement depending on the condition to be treated and the tissue being targeted. It may also be combined with electrical stimulation.

Patients may find immediate relief or benefits can last several days and up to six weeks. The benefits of dry needling can last for several weeks, but the length of time will vary from person to person. Some people may only need one treatment, while others may require a series of treatments.

Dry needling is a minimally invasive physical therapy procedure that may be performed superficially or in deep tissue. Dry needling is generally considered to be safe. There is a risk of bruising, bleeding, or swelling at the needle site. In rare cases, dry needling may cause slight bleeding at the point of insertion.

What is a trigger point?

A trigger point is an area of hyperirritability in muscles that is associated with a hypersensitive spot in a tight band of muscle fibers. Trigger point pain is caused by a lack of oxygen and blood flow in the affected muscles. Trigger points activate and radiate pain to the affected area when pressure is applied and sometimes spontaneously. Dry needling causes increased blood flow in small blood vessels which results in improved blood flow and oxygenation. The aim of dry needling is to relax muscles that have knotted or contracted.

What are the most common conditions treated with dry needling?

Myofascial pain

Dry needling is used to relieve pain, improve function, and reduce muscle tension due to myofascial pain syndrome, a chronic condition that cause pain and stiffness in the muscles and fascia – the thin, white connective tissue that surrounds muscles. The pain is confined to a specific area such as the neck or back and is typically associated with trigger points in the muscles.

Fibromyalgia

Dry needling may also be employed to treat fibromyalgia, another chronic pain syndrome but with no trigger points. In addition to chronic pain, fibromyalgia involves fatigue, sleep disturbances and impaired quality of life and daily functioning. Instead, a patient with fibromyalgia can have multiple generalized tender points.

Studies report that dry needling therapy reduced myofascial pain in the short term (six weeks) in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome. Dry needling improves anxiety, depression, fatigue symptoms, quality of life, and sleep after treatment. It also decreased pain intensity.

Tendinopathy

Tendinopathy is the term used for any tendon condition caused by injury or overuse of a tendon that results in pain and swelling. Dry needling can be used to treat cases of long-standing tendinopathy including Achilles tendinopathy.

Additional applications

Muscle strains, knee osteoarthritis, rotator cuff disease, painful spine related conditions, muscle spasms, fascia, scar tissue, peripheral nerves, and nerve bundles for the management of a variety of nerve, and other muscle syndromes.


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