“Dry needling” is the technique of inserting very fine acupuncture needles deep into the muscles to stimulate trigger points. Trigger points are those spots in the muscles that hurt when you poke them! Its called dry needling for 2 reasons, firstly to indicate that the needle is NOT a hypodermic needle used to inject or withdraw fluids from the body. So it’s a needle that doesn’t carry fluid and for this reason its called a “dry” needle.
The other reason is that dry needling is NOT the same as acupuncture.
There are in fact a number of dry needling courses available. They can be as simple as feel for a trigger point and jab in a needle, which is EXACTLY what a physiotherapist on the same course told me about a previous dry needling course she attended. Thankfully the dry needling course I attended is markedly different.
In this course there was incredible attention to detail with respect to the anatomy of the structures being dry needled and exactly how the needles should be inserted. In addition to this the muscles being dry needled are integrated into the broader neurological framework. The idea is to trace along other muscles supplied by the same nerve roots and look for “latent” trigger points. These “latent” trigger points may or may not cause pain when poked but they are like the accidents waiting to happen, over time they can also become active trigger points. The problem is that these latent trigger points are adding additional stimulation via the common nerve pathways to fire up the trigger points that currently do cause pain when poked. Of course if have you already been treated by an Osteopath, you would have experienced this already!
That being said, Osteopaths actually take things even one step further again beyond looking at the point of pain and the neurological framework. Osteopaths also look at the bio-mechanical set up of the injury. We go looking for other structures placing a bio-mechanical load on the syptomatic area. This is often an area seemingly remote from the tissue causing your pain and often has a completely separate nerve supply. This is a really important point to understand and explains why you may say – “that’s it, that’s exactly the pain I feel” and we will still move on treat other areas.
Osteopaths not only treat the tissues causing the pain, we also treat the tissues that set up the problem.
So what do we actually do when using a dry needle? A trigger point in the targeted muscle is identified and a needle is inserted INTO the muscle. This technique does penetrate the skin. It’s worth noting that patients so far have reported that they don’t really notice the needle being inserted. Once the needle is correctly inserted, the practitioner pumps the needle a few times in the muscle. We are looking for an involuntary twitch response from you. This means the muscle will “jump” without any thought or control on your part. It’s kind of cool.
It is this twitch in the muscle that creates the response in the nervous system that releases the muscle tension. I think of it as rebooting or restarting the computer when a program freezes – we don’t know exactly how it unfreezes the computer, we just know it does.
The most important question is why would you be at all interested in having a needle jabbed into a muscle and then pumped around until your muscle starts jumping?
Good question, I am glad you asked.
The reason is actually very simple. I have been at this Osteopathy thing for over 10 years now and since leaving university, I have never seen a single technique that can create such a profound change in muscle spasm and tension within such a short time frame. We are only talking about a few seconds of pumping a needle, and then the needle comes out. It’s well worth perhaps 3-5 seconds of discomfort.
If you are interested in trying it out, let Saskia or myself know and we can discuss whether it’s appropriate for your condition and if so, we will give it a go.