Dry needling is a technique used to treat trigger points (muscle knots). It is often confused with acupuncture which uses the same needles but is based on a different theory.
When a trigger point is needled, a very fine, flexible needle is placed into the muscle. Healthy muscle feels very little discomfort when the needle is inserted. When a trigger point is needled, the muscle usually jumps – this is called the twitch response and shows that the needle has been inserted into the right place. Muscle pain is felt locally and/ or in the referral pattern of the trigger point. After dry needling the muscle often feels stiff and uncomfortable. Heat and stretching can help to reduce this stiffness.
Dry needling works for the following reasons:
- It reduces pain by causing your body to produce natural painkillers and feel-good hormones.
- The needle “un-knots” the trigger point by causing a mechanical disruption of the muscle spasm.
- The needle irritates the muscle slightly causing a small local imflammatory response which causes blood to rush to the area. The blood brings oxygen which is needed for the chemical reaction in the muscle that causes relaxation.
- Once the initial stiffness following the needling has passed, the muscle is less painful and more flexible and movement is easier and less uncomfortable.