Dry needling (DN) is the procedure of inserting solid filament needles (acupuncture needles) through the skin and soft tissues, strategically targeting dysfunctional areas in order to restore normal function. It is something that I use on a lot, but not all of my patients. I find it to be an incredibly useful modality for the treatment of both acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions because of its effect on both the local tissues and the nervous system in general.
The practice is not to be compared to acupuncture except that we use similar types of needles. Acupuncture is the cornerstone of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is an effective treatment approach for a variety of health issues and is based on over 2500 years of evidence. Dry needling, on the other hand, is increasingly being used by physical therapists, chiropractors, and some medical doctors as an adjunct to more traditional Western medical therapies. I use it in conjunction with the variety of other manual therapy techniques that I employ.
The advantages of DN are well-documented and include an immediate and latent reduction in localized, referred, and even more widespread pain. I also often see immediate increases in range of motion and reduction in muscle tone (spasm). And I really appreciate that the system that I’ve been trained in pays particular attention to the effects that DN can have on more chronic types of pain, called peripheral and central sensitization.
Dry needling has been traditionally used to treat myofascial trigger points (TP), which are focal areas of hyperactive muscle and hypersensitized nerve endings. Trigger points can have far-reaching consequences beyond their localized area of pain. Trigger points can refer pain to other areas of the body, and they can result in loss of motion and function. And when they stick around long enough, TPs can turn a simple painful problem into a chronic pain state.
When utilized in a more systemic manner, DN can have a more long-lastic effect on TPs or other chronic pain states of musculoskeletal origin. The approach of Integrative Systemic Dry Neeling™ utilizes some of the principles of more traditional TP needling as well as the targeting of spinal and other soft tissues that are associated with the peripheral symptoms and the formation of a hypersensitized state.
I believe that when we think of pain as more “neural” (nerve, nervous system, how pain is interpreted by our bodies and brain) than strictly “tissue” (what’s happening right where, or around where our pain is) then we will have more success treating pain conditions. Dry needling is providing me with another modality to go along those lines. It allows me to treat more globally and in line with a lot of the Postural Restoration® concepts that I use. After all, treating the injured tissue locally only goes so far. Literally.