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The latest research from the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine shows the reason behind the lesser known but rapidly growing popularity of the practice called myofascial trigger point dry needling or dry needling.  Dry needling is playing an important role in minimizing both acute, chronic, and post-surgery pain when it is most severe. 

 Before we take a closer look into these findings, it is important to understand what exactly dry needling is, its role in helping to mediate injuries, how dry needling differs from acupuncture, and what conditions it is most appropriate for treating.


But first, let’s brush up on the origins of musculoskeletal pain as this will help draw a better connection to dry needling and pain.


Trigger points and pain

Most patients undergoing musculoskeletal problems have endured some form of pain through the process, or experience decreases in their functional abilities. Because of this, simple activities like walking or standing become troublesome, so people tend to do less of both thinking they will be better off. Unfortunately, this inactivity attributes to several physiology responses such as decreased endurance, stamina, weakness and loss of motion.  There may also be a change in gait pattern, which can cause the muscle fibers to shorten or over-lengthen, leading to trigger points.


Herein lies the problem. These trigger points then begin to harvest pain due to the sarcomeres (functional unit of striated muscle) moving closer together, causing a decrease in blood flow and oxygen saturation, which makes the muscle area very acidic. And when there is an acid build-up in the muscles, you’ll experience knots, fatigue and muscle burn.


Since most researchers’ efforts zero in on the causes of the pain, like bone-on-bone contact in the knee, these trigger points, which have a large role in the resurrection of pain, often go unnoticed. It is at this moment that we start to understand the value of techniques like dry needling.


What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a technique for the treatment of myofascial pain (contraction knots) and dysfunction in musculoskeletal areas where muscles are typically denser. Due to the sensitive nature with treating areas of deep tissue, dry needling helps target these areas without the discomfort or bruising commonly experienced through hands-on techniques. The goal of dry needling is to help the body relax and increase blood flow at locations of discomfort. By doing this, the muscles will contract, which will allow for improved functionality and decreased pain.

 Some of the more common conditions dry needling helps to remedy deal with sprain/strain injuries, chronic pain conditions, chronic tension-type headaches, pressure build-up in the muscles, and nerve compression conditions.


Differences between dry needling and acupuncture

Like dry needling, acupuncture uses similar anatomically specific (non-injection) filiform needles to help reduce pain. However, the approach and ideologies of the procedures are where we start to see the similarities fade. 

Dry needling involves the insertion of a needle into soft tissues with the aim of decreasing muscle tissue tension and improving musculoskeletal function.

 Acupuncture, on the other hand, uses needles to manipulate the balance and flow of the body’s energy meridians. Doing this stimulates the body to produce its own pain-relieving endorphins, which help to promote healing and restore health.


Muscles after surgery

Using surgical t cases as our example, dry needling is beneficial as it helps to reduce trigger points that either developed prior to the surgery or afterwards.  During the surgery, tissue is pulled and moved around which can be traumatic to the tissue.  It will then respond by shortening and becoming painful. The patient may also not want to start moving again right after the surgery due to pain or other complications from the surgery. Again, lack of activity will cause decreased strength, shortening of the muscles, reduced endurance, etc., ultimately leading to trigger points.  The patient’s body mechanics may have changed as well causing the muscle to fire and move in incorrect patterns, which also lead to trigger points. 


Dry needling and long-term opioid use

As compared to opioids, dry needling is a safe and effective alternative to controlling musculoskeletal pain especially in chronic pain patients. Opioids have a long list of side effects and can lead to spiraling dependencies. Opioids work by binding to receptors in the brain and body, however, there are limits to the number of receptors that can be utilized. Once every receptor has something bound to it, any additional increase in dosage has no effect. By steadily increasing the dosage level means that the medication is not working and other options need to be explored.  See the latest story on how dry needling is more effective than opiods for certain conditions.


Studies have found longer relief of pain is best managed through dry needling as compared to wet needling (lidocaine injections) and medication. The use of dry needling is just one component in controlling pain. A skilled therapist will use needling to remove any painful trigger points but also direct the patient in a beneficial exercise program to continue to decrease and control pain.


Emery Physical Therapy offers dry needling treatment

Call us today to learn if dry needling can help you get back to your active life.  (847) 786 - 2014

To learn more in-depth regarding the science, research, effectiveness of Dry Needling click HERE.