Dry needling – Isn’t that like acupuncture?

Dry needling is a common treatment technique used by manual therapists, including Osteopaths. It is often compared with and contrasted to acupuncture and can be considered within the scope of acupuncture practice. Dry needling is performed with the same solid filament needle as used by acupuncturists, but dry needling does not require any knowledge of traditional acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine health concepts. In other words, dry needling was developed independently of acupuncture, which already existed.

Although there are various dry needling approaches, the most common and most evidence-based approach involves targeting myofascial trigger points. In order to use dry needling effectively, manual therapists must learn how to identify trigger points.

So, what exactly is a trigger point?

A myofascial trigger point is a hyperirritable spot in a skeletal muscle, associated with a hypersensitive, palpable nodule in a taut band. This spot is painful upon compression and may give rise to characteristic referred pain, tenderness, and motor dysfunction.

A trigger point is considered to be ‘active’ if the pain caused with pressure on the point is familiar to the patient. These points may cause both local and referred pain. ‘Latent’ trigger points are considered to be tender with pressure but do not cause pain unless stimulated. Latent trigger points can quickly develop into active trigger points.

To read about trigger points in more detail, check out Joel Olsen’s blog about Trigger points on the OGOSH website: https://www.ogosh.com.au/blog/what-is-a-trigger-point/

Why treat trigger points?

Once active trigger points have developed (e.g. in response to injury, arthritis, muscle damage, postural strain) there will be constant pain signal input into the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which in turn can affect function of muscles in the local area, leading to further muscle overload, disuse and weakness. There may also be restricted joint movement.

Trigger points are involved in nearly every pain syndrome, including whiplash, tension headaches, and migraines, to name a few.

Treatments which inactivate trigger points (such as dry needling) have an impact on perception of pain in the central nervous system by addressing a ‘peripheral’ source of pain (in this case, the painful trigger point within a muscle).

Why dry needling?

The advantages of dry needling are being increasingly recognised and include an immediate reduction in local, referred and widespread pain and the restoration of range of motion and muscle activation patterns.

Dry needling does not replace other manual physical therapy techniques, but it may be useful in assisting with a rapid reduction in pain and return to function. Trigger points can also be inactivated with manual techniques and joint manipulations, but dry needling generally appears to be a more specific, efficient and faster method.

Click here to book an appointment with Catherine or call the clinic on 5255 5040 (OG) or 4202 0446 (L) to discuss how Catherine can help you achieve your health goals.

References: Dommerholt, J. (2011). Dry needling – peripheral and central considerations, Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy, 26(4), 223-227. doi: 10.1179/106698111X13129729552065