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Dry Needling – What is it and is it right for me?

Ash Cannan, MPhty, B. App Sc (Ex Sc) - Registered Physiotherapist

dry needling acupuncture

What is it?

Dry needling is a technique where a very fine short stainless-steel needle is inserted into the skin, subcutaneous tissues, and muscle. This technique is used to treat muscle pain, spasm, and tightness. It is considered “dry needling” because no fluid is being inserted or removed. The needles used are a quarter of a millimetre thick (0.0025cm), which is about as thin as a human hair.


Dry needling is often used to treat myofascial trigger points, which are localized hypersensitive spots in a palpable tense band of muscle.


How does it work?

The goal of dry needling is to disrupt the abnormal neuromuscular activity, which encourages the tight muscle fibres to relax, reduce inflammation, improve flexibility, and provide better circulation to the surrounding tissues.


When the needle is inserted into the myofascial trigger point, a local inflammatory response occurs. This causes new oxygen rich blood and nutrients to flood the area to promote tissue healing, while flushing away any unwanted chemicals or waste products.


How is it different to acupuncture?

Dry needling and acupuncture can often be confused. It is important to understand that dry needling and acupuncture are not the same thing. Similar tools are used with both techniques, however there are very few other similarities between the two methods.


Dry needling involves inserting needles directly into muscle trigger points of a dysfunctional area. In contrast, acupuncture involves inserting needles into specific acupuncture points, which relate to different regions and organs of the body, as well as different conditions.


Why do we use it?

The exact mechanisms of dry needling are complex and not fully known. However, research suggests that the effects of dry needling include:

  • Improving muscle function

  • Increasing flexibility of the muscle, which can improve joint range

  • Increasing blood flow to the area, which can provide nutrients and remove waste

  • Speeding up recovery

  • Breaking up adhesions and releasing tightness in the muscles

  • Decreasing pain with the release of neurotransmitters into the muscle, which can help block pain information being sent from the brain

  • Stimulating a local twitch response, which changes the local neural input into the muscle and allows the muscle to relax

What can it be used for?

Dry needling is a safe and effective technique that can be used to treat a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions. Dry needling is most effective when used in conjunction with other techniques including soft tissue massage, mobilisations, and rehabilitation exercises.


Dry needling is often used to treat muscles, ligaments, tendons, and subcutaneous fascia.


Dry needling aims to relieve the pain caused by musculoskeletal dysfunction through relaxing myofascial trigger points. Myofascial trigger points are described as localized hypersensitive spots in a tense band of muscle. Trigger points can occur due to many reasons including muscle overuse, muscle trauma or injury, or emotional stress. Examples of this include poor posture or repetitive activities such as lifting heavy objects at work or sitting at a desk all day.


Dry needling can be used to treat a variety of acute and chronic injuries, including:

  • Muscle strains

  • Ligament sprains

  • Neck and shoulder pain / injury

  • Lower back pain

  • Headaches

  • Tennis and golfer’s elbow

Does it hurt?

As stated, the needles used are only a quarter of a millimetre thick (0.0025cm). Some patients feel a slight sting as the needle is inserted, however this usually only lasts a second or two. Most patients barely feel the needle go in and they are almost completely painless while they are in the muscles. It is common to have a feeling of heaviness in the muscle or a slight dull ache after removal of the needles.


Is dry needling right for me?

Dry needling is a very safe and clean technique. We use individually packaged, single use, sterile needles and dispose of them safely.


Dry needling is not suitable for every patient or their condition. Dry needling may not be for you if you are on blood thinning medication, have a bleeding disorder, or if you have a fear of needles or an allergy to metals. It is important to tell your practitioner if you have a heart condition, cancer or diabetes, if you have recently had surgery, if you are pregnant, or if you have an infection or illness you think may be causing your pain.


Who at our clinic offers dry needling?

At Wellness for the Body both myself (Ash Cannan) and our other physiotherapist (Reena Babu) can provide dry needling.


If dry needling is something you would be interested in trying, please mention it to your practitioner and we can have a discussion to see if it is right for you. You may also call 905.465.4595 to schedule a free consultation or book online at wellnessforthebody.com.

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