Is Dry Needling the Same as Acupuncture?
While similar needles are used in both dry needling (trigger point dry needling, functional dry needling) and acupuncture, the approach is different. Dry Needling follows a neuromuscular approach looking for neural irritation or local muscle dysfunction in trigger points. In trigger point dry needling, the trigger points are released with the needle. There are some acupuncturists that also practice dry needling for a more direct functional approach with the muscles.
Does it Hurt?
There can be discomfort in the needling process which is usually described as deep, dull, and achy. Once the needle is inserted, there should be no significant discomfort, or discomfort felt should start to fade. Any sharp sensations after needle insertion needs to be relayed to your therapist and the needle moved to a new location as it may be close to a nerve or vein.
Can I Be Injured With Dry Needling?
There are some rare risks with dry needling. Lung puncture can be a risk if needling in areas around the lungs, but your therapist should be well trained to avoid this area. Any persistent cough or shortness of breath after treatments should be reported to your physician as soon as possible. Other more common side effects are bruising from needling too close to a vein (which is common when working in certain vascularized areas of the body), temporary zingers when coming close to a nerve, and muscle soreness after needling for up to 3 days, especially if there is a significant trigger point with twitch responses during treatment.
What Can I Expect While I Am Getting Needled?
The needling process is different for everyone depending on what their needs are within the session. The number of areas worked on varies, but may be limited if there is only local restriction, you are sensitive to the needling, or you have a systemic or autonomic response to the needling. We certainly don't want to over needle just to try and treat everything at once. This is not helpful to restoring balance in the body. Typically, one can expect picking a few primary areas to work on at each session. The needle insertion may feel like a bit of a prick, but resolve once the needle is fully at the depth it needs to go. Advise your therapist if it feels too uncomfortable. Some needles sit in an area for a few minutes and some are "pistoned" into trigger point areas to stimulate a twitch response (involuntary jumping like reaction of the muscle). Occasionally electrical stimulation will be put on the needles if needed and you are appropriate for that treatment. In our office, we like to follow up the needling with manual work to those areas as tolerated, to help flush the system of the chemical released from the trigger points.
What Can I Expect After The Needling?
Everyone is different with their response to needling. Some feel improvements right away without any lingering soreness. There are certain areas that tend to be ore sore after than others, such as the upper traps in the neck and the calves amongst others. There can be muscle soreness, especially in areas that had a twitch response to the needling as this causes a chemical release into the muscle. This can last from 24 to 72 hours and should resolve to hopefully feel better than before the needling session. If there is increased pain, using cold modalities can help (cool packs). If there is more muscle tension or nerve like pain, then heat may be more relieving. Be sure to discuss this with your therapist for specifics. Any responses you feel may be abnormal, be sure to report them to your therapist.
What Are The Benefits of Dry Needling Over Other Techniques?
Dry needling can be very effective at getting to very local points that are problematic, used to help calm down chronic pain for some especially with the use of electrical stimulation, and for many, seems to speed up the route of healing with a very direct method of intervention to the trigger points in problematic muscles.