What is Trigger Point Dry Needling?
Trigger Point Dry Needling involves inserting thin needles into tight, irritable muscles.
Trigger Point Dry Needling creates changes to muscles and connective tissue (fascia) near the needled areas. It also stimulates nerves to help releases the body’s own painkillers.
What should I expect from treatment?
The number and location of needles used will vary based on your condition and treatment goals. The needle is inserted into the muscle up to several centimetres deep. Sometimes the needled muscle will twitch.
Trigger point dry needling is rarely a stand-alone treatment. It is used to address pain. When combined with other physiotherapy treatment methods, it also helps improve movement and function. Your physiotherapist will regularly check your progress to ensure needling is helping you.
What is Dry Needling Able to Treat?
Dry needling involves using a thin filiform needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate underlying myofascial trigger points, muscular and connective tissues in order to relieve pain and movement impairments.
Trigger points have been identified in numerous diagnoses, including:
- tension-type headaches
- carpal tunnel
- computer-related disorders
- whiplash associated disorders
- spinal dysfunction
- pelvic pain and other urologic syndromes
- post-herpetic neuralgia
- complex regional pain syndrome
- nocturnal cramps
- phantom pain
- disk pathology
- joint dysfunction
This alternative therapy is also used to treat dysfunctions in skeletal muscle, fascia and connective tissue. It reduces and restores impairments of body structure and function, leading to improved activity and participation.
Top 3 Dry Needling Benefits
1. Reduces Pain
Several studies have demonstrated immediate or short-term improvements in pain or disability by targeting trigger points with dry needling. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation suggests that dry needling significantly reduced shoulder pain by targeting a trigger point. In the study, 14 patients with bilateral shoulder pain and active myofascial trigger points in the bilateral muscles underwent dry needling therapy on one side and no therapy on the other side, which served as the control.
Dry needling physiotherapy increased both active and passive range of motion of shoulder internal rotation, and the pressure pain threshold of the trigger points. Pain intensity of the treated shoulder was significantly reduced as well. The study provides evidence that dry needling a specific myofascial trigger point does reduce pain and sensitivity in that area.
2. Improves Movement
Research shows that patients undergoing dry needling therapy, in conjunction with movement-based therapy, experience more fluid movement. A 2010 case report published in Acupuncture in Medicine treated four international female volleyball athletes during a month-long intense competitive phase with dry needling therapy. Range of motion, strength and pain were assessed before and after treatment and all scores were improved post treatment. The athletes were able to continue with overhead activities, which proves that dry needling does not cause functional weakness and reduced range of motion immediately after treatment.
These cases support the use of dry needling in elite athletes during a competitive phase with short-term pain relief and improved function in shoulder injuries.
3. Speeds Up the Recovery Process
Patients who undergo dry needling therapy experience less pain quickly; in fact, most patients feel the benefits immediately after their first treatment. According to reports published by the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, patient function is restored much more quickly when dry needling is incorporated as part of the total package.
A study conducted at the University of Queensland in Australia investigated the effectiveness of dry needling for chronic whiplash, which is associated with sensory hypersensitivity and has poor responsiveness to physical treatments such as exercise. In order to enhance the treatment outcomes of an exercise intervention, dry needling was used in conjunction with exercise to address the sensory hypersensitivity of whiplash. Because exercise programs alone did not fully eliminate the symptoms of whiplash after three months of treatment, the physical therapists added dry needling to the treatment plan in order to speed up the healing process, reduce the economic cost of treatment and minimize pain and disability.
Are there any complications associated with Trigger Point Dry Needling?
Yes. Any technique that punctures skin has a risk of complications. It is important you know the risks before treatment. Some minor complications that usually resolve on their own include pain during or following treatment. Less common complications include fatigue and drowsiness. Hence, be sure to communicate with your physiotherapist throught the treatment and ensure your questions are answered.
Would a different treatment work?
Needling is one of the many techniques your physiotherapist may use. Discuss the benefits and risks of needling and other available treatments with your physiotherapist. For some, such as those with needle fear or a history of fainting, an alternative treatment might be a better option.
Do all physiotherapists perform Trigger Point Dry needling?
No. Physiotherapists who perform dry needling have completed training in addition to their university education. They have also received approval to perform needling from their regulatory body (Physiotherapy Alberta – College + Association) and must adhere to safe practice standards.
-Adapted from Physiotherapy Alberta