Dry Needling

What is Dry Needling?

Popular with both professional and weekend athletes, dry needling uses an acupuncture needle to relax contracted muscles by  releasing trigger points, reducing muscle spasm and pain.

As with the rest of acupuncture, the exact mechanism of dry needling is not yet known. What is clear is that there are local mechanical and biochemical effects that begin a chain of reactions, stimulating the nervous system’s natural healing response.

Does Dry Needling Hurt?

Whilst most acupuncture techniques I perform are gentle and do not hurt, dry needling is a stronger technique. When performed by a skilled practitioner it is typical to experience a muscle twitch and a brief ache as the trigger point is deactivated. Awareness od the area can persist for up to 24 hours later, similar to the way a tight muscle feels after it has been released with massage.

A Short History of Dry Needling

The term dry needling originated in the medical profession because of the need to differentiate between treating a trigger point using a hypodermic needle without injection (dry needle) from the use of a hypodermic needle to inject substances such as local anesthetics (wet needling). Because a hypodermic needle was used the technique was quite invasive. Unlike an acupuncture needle, a hypodermic needle has a slicing or cutting edge and when used to deactivate trigger points would cause some trauma to the local tissue. Today the term “dry needling has been retained even though an acupuncture needle is now used instead of a hypodermic needle. Once the filiform acupuncture needle was adopted instead of the cutting hypodermic needle, the technique became indistinguishable from the ancient technique called “ahi shi” acupuncture or more commonly today “trigger point” acupuncture.

Although the term dry needling has gained in popularity in recent years, it is not new. As mentioned earlier, it is a small subsystem of acupuncture, often referred to by acupuncturists as Ahshi acupuncture or trigger point acupuncture. Dry needling has been in continuous use by acupuncturists for at least 1400 years. It is just one of many methods of treatment commonly used by acupuncturists to treat a very narrow range of musculoskeletal dysfunction.

It is important to note that unlike acupuncture, which is regulated by the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, dry needling is not regulated and has been adopted by many massage therapists and physiotherapists after completing a short course of training. These short courses are often as little as 16 hours in duration and typically don’t include any training that involves clinical supervision. This is in stark contrast to an acupuncturist with a degree in acupuncture. A modern degree in acupuncture, BHSC(ACU), is a health science degree and  involves the study of anatomy and other western medical sciences in addition to Acupuncture. They commonly require 150 hours of training in point location and needle technique and approximately 500 hours of supervised clinical practice as part of undergraduate studies.

If you have experienced “dry needling” at the hands of a therapist with limited training and experience it is important to understand that this is not reflective of the treatment you can receive from a highly trained and experienced acupuncturist.

If you are interested in further reading on the subject of dry needling please take the time to read Acupuncture by Another Name: Dry Needling in Australia.