There are many people who think that dry needling is the same as Chinese acupuncture. For them, the technique is as mysterious as Qi and energy forces. Because it is difficult to explain, they no longer want to get such treatments as dry needling for back pain. I am here to demystify the technique of dry needling and hope to encourage more people to try the treatment.
Focus of Treatment
The most important distinction between dry needling and acupuncture is the focus of treatment. This technique focuses more on the reduction or alleviation of pain. It also works to restore the function of a problematic body part. It does this by releasing myofascial trigger points.
Acupuncture focuses more on the “re-establishment” of the normal flow of life energy. It attempts to restore balance so that this life energy or Qi will move throughout the body in an uninterrupted manner. Unfortunately, this is where many people have trouble understanding. I cannot blame them. It is very difficult to imagine what Qi is or how a blockage in the flow of life energy can cause disease.
Dry Needling and Myofascial Trigger Points
Dry needling is more concerned about alleviating pain and restoring function of the affected muscle. It does this by addressing the source of pain – myofascial trigger points.
We know these “trigger points” as muscle knots. If you try to rub a certain muscle, you will notice a lump. The lump is the result of the muscle fibres not returning to their original, relaxed state after contraction. Because they remain in a contracted state, they also compress the nerves that supply the muscles. It also compresses the small blood vessels in the area.
This compression reduces the flow of blood to and from the affected muscle. Not only are the muscle fibres unable to receive nutrients and oxygen; they also cannot get rid of lactic acid in a more efficient way. This can also exacerbate the pain experience.
In addition to these effects, the other muscle fibres will also compensate by contracting. This forces the myofascial trigger point to grow and create more intense pain. That is why we often feel tenderness. It also becomes very painful to move this part of our body.
How the Technique Works
One can think of dry needling as controlled and purposeful bleeding. It uses the same sterile needles that acupuncturists use. It is important to ascertain the germfree state of the needles. Dry needling practitioners are very careful about introducing any microorganism into the patient’s body. That is why it is necessary that they use only sterilised needles.
As the needle gets inserted into the muscle fibre, it creates a miniature tissue injury. The destruction of the tissues will allow blood to leak into the area of the needle. The nutrients and oxygen in this pool of blood get absorbed into the tissues of the myofascial trigger point.
At the same time, the controlled tissue damage facilitates the more efficient removal of lactic acid. It also aids in the decompression of the area. This frees nerves and blood small vessels from the pressure exerted by the contracted muscle fibres.
It is for this reason that therapists who use the dry needling technique should have an excellent knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. This is very fundamental to the practise. They should know where to insert the needle.
This makes more sense than the meridians and life energy points used by Chinese acupuncturists. Of course, if you understand the different terms that acupuncturists use, then there should be no problem at all.
When You Should Use Dry Needling
Dry needling does not promise to improve your mood or to make your anxieties go away. What it does provide is pain relief. However, one has to understand that it only works if the cause of pain is due to a myofascial trigger point. If pain is due to another cause, then you should not use dry needling.
If the myofascial trigger point also creates problems in your mobility, then you can also use dry needling. This will help restore the normal movements of the joints.
The technique of dry needling is a lot easier to understand because it uses terms that we are already familiar with. There are no “energies” to talk about. Everything has a scientific basis as well. I hope this article helped demystify the process of dry needling. It is not the same as acupuncture.