D is for Dry Needling

I’ve had a mild fascination with Dry Needling since I graduated as a Sports and Remedial massage therapist a few years ago. Actually, it goes back further than that, perhaps right back to my first massage treatment in Japan. It has taken me a while to actually get around to doing a course to qualify, but it has finally come to pass.

This is intended as a very very basic introduction to the idea of Dry Needling as a therapy, and is in no way comprehensive. That would take far longer, and a lot more text than most people are happy reading in a blog.

Needles and Needling seem to have a mixed reaction in my client base, some of them visibly recoil as soon as they are mentioned, but others are genuinely intrigued and are happy to have it done. The most common question I get asked is “Dry Needling, isn’t that just like Acupuncture?”
The answer is both a yes and a no.

Obviously, Dry Needling is based on Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, it uses needles, and there is no getting away from that. It is used as a pain relief method, and a healing modality, so there are parallels there. The first few hours of the workshop I went to explained the background and precepts of Chinese Acupuncture, but beyond that, there are a few other similarities, but overwhelmingly, they are different.

Acupuncture, as a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)is its own diagnostic system, working on Traditional Chinese theories of health and wellness. Yin and Yang figure largely in the balance of the body (and the universe as a whole), and needling is seen as a way to help balance these out, while paying strict attention to elements, cycles, meridians and other things within the body. It is these aspects of acupuncture that take a long, long time to study, learn and put into practice. It is also something that does not really come into Dry Needling.

As well as having roots in TCM, Dry Needling also takes a lot of cues from Trigger Point Therapy, a system methodically worked out and recorded by Drs Travell and Simons in the 20th Century. Trigger points have been mentioned before, and no doubt will come up again, probably as a part of this alphabetised series. The idea of finding somewhere in a muscle that hurts, and then putting a needle into the spot seems like a bit of an odd thing to do. However, there is method in the apparent madness.

Needling is a physical disturbance to soft tissue. The microtrauma created by the needle within a muscle or soft tissue stimulates the body to heal. The brain identifies the area and directs various systems to help replace the damaged tissue with the same type of fresh tissue within a few days. In this way, needling is a way to stimulate self-healing – breaking down old tissue, and enabling the body to work on manufacturing newer, healthier tissue in its place.

Although it can be used as a healing treatment, it can also be given as a preventative treatment and as a way of assessing the state of soft tissue. There are many other points about Dry Needling which are beyond the scope of this blog, but if you are interested in the more technical aspects, you could do worse than to look up Yun-tao Ma’s Biomedical Acupuncture for Sports and Trauma Rehabilitation. A bit pricey, but an excellent and informative read.

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