Dry needling a new style of acupuncture

Considering acupuncture or dry needling?

We get a lot of questions about whether acupuncture would be helpful for our patients.  So what is it and is it the same the thing as dry needling? 

TRADITIONAL ACUPUNCTURE uses very fine needles inserted in to areas known as acupuncture points.  The traditional theory is that it releases blockage to energy flows, to help with illness and injury. 

From a WESTERN MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE though, the needles are producing reactions in the tissue including the surrounding nerve endings.  Since our nerves control all our body’s processes, this can be used to stimulate healing and/or reduce pain sensations.

DRY NEEDLING is a technique that uses acupuncture needles to release tight muscles.  It works best on those knotted up muscles that won’t let go. 

Any needle type can be used but acupuncture needles are the most comfortable so that’s what we use.  When the tight band of muscle is stimulated by the needle, it will twitch.  It’s sometimes uncomfortable if the muscle is very tight but usually it’s just a strange sensation.  After it twitches, the muscle tension in that spot can release.  This works very well in conjunction with massage.

The needles are very fine and you can actually fit 1 to 2 of them inside the needles used for a blood test.  This makes them much more comfortable and it’s very rare for them to bleed at all.  They are all single use needles that are disposed of after use.

Acupuncture can sometimes be a little achy (the Chinese call the sensation Qi or Chi) which means the nerves in the area are being stimulated, but your acupuncturist can be asked to keep the discomfort to a minimum.  The needles can be kept in place anywhere from a few seconds up to half an hour depending on what type of injury is being targeted, but in a physio clinic we don’t often leave them in past a few minutes.  Some patients only require one needle, others may have 5 or 6.

Dry needling can last from a few seconds up to a minute.  The number of needles depends on how many spots need released and how the patient feels about having it done.  Often only 1 or 2 are used, but some patients will feel fine with having several.

As physios, we assess people’s pain and injuries and decide what the best treatment options are.  Sometimes acupuncture or dry needling could be recommended as an option but you should always be asked if you’re comfortable having it done.  As physios, we will usually offer acupuncture or dry needling in conjunction with other options also, such as massage, mobilisations and exercises.

So if you think your injury could benefit from some acupuncture to stimulate some more healing or some dry needling to release those tight muscles, ask your physio if it’s suitable for you.

Kathryn is a Registered Physio Acupuncturist with a post graduate qualification from Otago University and 15 years experience with acupuncture and dry needling.

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