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At ALPHA Health Services, we offer dry needling as a technique to help decrease pain, increase movement and improve overall functionality. I have had many patients ask me about dry needling. What is it? How does it help? Is it the same as acupuncture? Will it decrease my pain? The questions go on…

So, let me use this blog to try to demystify the technique a little bit, explain the science behind it, and bring to your attention the research that has been done to support its effectiveness for many conditions.

Dry needling is similar to acupuncture in that both techniques use needles to penetrate through the skin to underlying tissue. However, dry needling targets trigger points, which develop in muscle and are a direct and palpable source of patient pain.  Dry needling helps to stimulate blood flow to that muscle to restore normal tissue tension. In contrast, acupuncture targets the “meridians” and energy pathways in the body to attempt to relieve pain and correct the imbalance of energy flow.

Dry needling is also referred to as intramuscular manual therapy, meaning doing manual therapy on the inside of the muscle. There are many techniques physiotherapists can use to decrease muscle pain, including hands on therapy, ultrasound, laser etc, but dry needling is the only technique that allows physiotherapists to treat IN the muscle. By penetrating into muscle tissue, dry needling can work to stimulate an under active muscle, or to calm down an overactive muscle- both of which can cause discomfort, decrease the effectiveness of a muscle, or limit the range of motion produced by a muscle.

As an example of this, take my recent patient who came in with thigh pain. Yes, there were palpable trigger points in the thigh, which caused discomfort. After assessing this patient, it was clear their glut muscles (muscles around the hip) were very weak. As a result, the thigh muscles were working overtime to compensate for the glut weakness. Dry needling was doing double duty this time- I needled the thigh muscles to decrease the tone and pain which she felt there due to an overactive muscles, but I also needled her glut muscles to stimulate them so they would begin to fire (thus taking the strain off the overworked thighs). This patient reported relief in 3 treatments.

A secondary benefit of dry needling is for patients suffering from chronic pain. Chronic pain can lead to altered brain chemistry through a constant bombardment of signals entering the brain over a prolonged period of time. It disrupts the limbic system, can throw off your temperature regulation, your diet, and your sleep. In short, chronic pain reworks the chemistry of your brain and causes many negative secondary effects. Dry needling can help “reboot” the brain, as it attempts to bring the brain chemistry back into its “normal” state. By targeting 21 pre determined points on the body, the needles help to reboot the central nervous system, and thus helps minimize chronic pain and the secondary effects which result. Many patients suffering from arthritic, cancer, or chronic back pain have noticed a significant decrease in pain as well as a decrease in the secondary effects associated with chronic pain after dry needling.

Dry needling is not painful, there are no side effects, and no contraindications (except pregnancy). Practitioners trained in this technique are required to pass an extensive course and obtain a certificate in order to practice. It is becoming increasingly popular in Canada, but few practitioners are qualified to deliver the technique.

If you want to learn more… here are some links to current research and articles out there discussing dry needling!

http://www.thehealthjournals.com/2012/04/dry-needling-targeting-muscle-pain/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3201653/

Call us today to see if dry needling can work for you!