Tabitha explores the fantastic effects of needling
Dry Needling is an exciting technique in physiotherapy (essentially Physiotherapy's version of acupuncture). Katrina and I recently trained in this at a course in Darling Harbour. It has become another powerful tool in our tool belt when we treat our patients.
What is dry needling?
Small, ultrafine needles allow physiotherapists to target many important structures in your body affecting your movement. There are multiple applications, though each involves a needle and a few minutes with it sitting in the right position.
For example, the site where your muscle tendons join into bone can easily become thickened and irritated when overused over long periods. When a dry needle is inserted there, your body is provoked into responding to this otherwise overstimulated region. In much the same way, irregularities in your muscle tissue – both small and large – can appear when your body is adapting to excessive or abnormal tissue load. These can cause pain and other negative effects such as tightening and swelling and can be treated directly and indirectly with dry needles. Even swelling from acute injuries like ankle sprains is treatable this way.
With needling, we aim to disrupt a complex mechanism of activity involving interactions between the brain, nerves, blood vessels, hormones, chemical responses and the soft tissues of the body (ie muscles, ligaments and skin). These complex changes can cause abnormal loading/irritation of the tissues and less than ideal patterns of movement. The needles act like a combination of spotlight, alarm and jump start – the foreign stimulus causes your body to abandon its dysfunctional habits and return to a more normal state and movement.
Here's a shot of Katrina with some needles I put in at out course in July. See, she looks nice and comfortable!
Does dry needling hurt?
Many patients are concerned about how it might feel, though in reality it is often much less painful than most treatments we perform! There is sometimes a feeling like a pinprick when we insert and remove the needles – similar to the feeling you'd get if you plucked a single hair from your head. In some people, a small drop of blood or bruise might appear. Depending on the site and the length of the treatment, you may also feel tingling (especially near nerves) or aching (near bone). Occasionally when needling the upper body you may become light headed or have an unexpected emotional response. But these will be monitored for and addressed if they do occur.
Personally, having upper body needling done in my arm makes me feel like I've had a lovely glass of wine, very relaxed!
Of course, we follow a strict sterilization technique and use single use, disposable needles, ensuring the slight discomfort of the technique (if any) is the only thing you have to worry about. For most patients it is surprisingly comfortable and produces very satisfying and impressive results.
Often you will have your physio combining dry needling with massage, joint mobilisations and re-alignment techniques to give you the best out of your treatment.
If you're interested in dry needling, ask one of The Fix Program physios if it's right for you!