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4, Glynville Terrace, Gardens. Cape Town, 8001

021 461 2142

What Is Dry Needling

At Tamsin Hodgson Physiotherapy we aim to provide a magnitude of different treatment techniques that we believe will best support our patients journey to more efficient and effective ways of movement. Dry needling has been one of the brilliant techniques we choose, together with our patients, to assist with pain management. So let’s get into the detail around it all.

Dry needling is one of the many techniques Physiotherapists can use to alleviate pain. A thin needle is inserted into your muscle(s) to hit and deactivate trigger points (muscle knots). The term “dry” simply refers to the needle not injecting anything into your body eg.medication.

The next question, and one we receive a few times a day at the practice is…

What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?

There can be similarity in what the needles may look like as well as the techniques used however, “it’s the philosophies and applications that make them different.”

“While it’s been around for centuries, dry needling uses modern neuro-anatomy, musculoskeletal anatomy, and Western medicine’s concepts to affect the way your muscles move and function, locally, whereas acupuncture is a holistic medicine-type approach that uses the philosophy of energy systems, meridians, and qi flows,” Matt Briggs, PhD, A Physical Therapist at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center says. This centre is a leading researcher in pelvic pain and well as dry needling for knee injuries.

So in essence and what you will experience at the practice is a Western medicine concept. The Physio will palpate/identify a taut band within your tissue. This point is often where the needle is inserted. For many of you who have experienced needling with us before, this is the time when you’d typically feel that muscle twitch (and possibly think out a few swear words). From a more academic sense, this is referred to as a Local Twitch Response. The therapeutic intent for dry needling then is to correct underlying biochemical and biomechanical imbalances, where as acupuncture’s intent is to balance Qi/energy.

Hopefully that makes sense!

What is the needle doing?

Once the needle has been inserted into your muscle, there is an interruption within your neural response. That is, the message being relayed between your brain and your spinal cord. As a result, this positive boost can shift how your muscle is able to move and therefore perform its range of functions. Due to your brain receiving different messages, there can also be a change in how you perceive pain. Research has also shown needling changes muscle stimulation, triggering greater blood flow, healing, and improved movement.

Is dry needling helpful for new injuries?

Needling can relieve pain from acute or chronic problems. With the body providing compensatory patterns, areas that aren’t necessarily directly affected by an injury, can impact the pain you’re experiencing. So while it wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable if you’d just sprained your ankle, and you had a needle jabbed into it, we could needle your calf muscle which may be feeling tight from walking in a different pattern in an attempt to offload your ankle. This type of needling would aim to relax your calf muscle, creating a pain-relieving response. In turn, you’d experience increased blood flow to assist with healing.

With chronic injuries, and pain you’ve been experiencing long-term, dry needling can be used in combination with other treatments to reinforce different patterns. “These type of injuries can restrict movement in an effort to protect your body and, over time, if that’s not resolved it can create compensation as different parts of your body become overloaded. A lot of times you have pain and that causes muscle spasms and muscle tightness, which causes more pain,” Briggs says. “We use dry needling to break that cycle.”

How many sessions would we incorporate dry needling?

Often, as you start strengthening different muscles, it is normal to experience muscle discomfort. Dry needling could assist with changing the spasm pattern, while you concurrently follow the programme we’ve shared with you to strengthen and improve your range.

While this may be beneficial, if you’ve been needled in your previous session and had nightmares about returning for your next Physio treatment – we wouldn’t suggest needling again just to stick with the course.

“Dry needling is just an adjunct to other treatments; it’s not meant to be the sole treatment,” Briggs explains. “It’s used to get over the hump of why performance is being restricted, or to help rehab you from injury.”

Who can be dry needled?

At the practice, we conduct a thorough assessment looking at a wide range of variables before we decide to offer needling. It’s important, through assessment techniques, to understand where your pain or muscle imbalance may be coming from.

We wouldn’t needle anyone with a bleeding disorder, signs of infection, active cancer or anyone who’s pregnant. There are also other conditions we’ll take into account before offering to use dry needling. And it should go without saying that if you feel like you want to faint at the thought/sight of a needle, then we wouldn’t suggest this for you either.

Your safely is our first priority.

What does it feel like?

Mmmm, how to answer this without totally scaring you off…

Simply put, it’s not a feeling you can control. You don’t normally feel much when the needle is being tapped into your muscle. It is when the needle gets closer to the dysfunctional area that you can experience some tightness or slight deep aching.

It can also feel a bit odd when the muscle twitches, and again you don’t have any control over how big the response will be. Sometimes it can take patients by surprise when there is a noticeable “ jump” sign. Other times the response is less noticeable. The good news is we haven’t had anyone fall off a plinth or jump through the roof, so chances are you’ll manage.

That “jump” sign can also feel sensitive when there is a release in tension. Each person is different, so sensations will vary.

Due to the fact that the needle is increasing blood flow to the area, it is common to experience muscle soreness and tenderness after needling. Bruising is also common and a bit of heat goes a long way to help manage the discomfort around this. We will offer you a heat pack that you can use while you’re still at the practice.

What are the most commonly treated areas?

At the practice we most commonly use dry needling for the glutes, quads and calves as well as shoulders, jaws and necks.

How can I tell if the Physiotherapist I want to see has been trained in dry needling?

As dry needling is not taught within our undergraduate training, Physiotherapists can choose to receive postgraduate dry needling certifications. Often Physiotherapy websites will demonstrate their areas of practice, however if you’re after dry needling specifically it’s a good idea to call and ask before your appointment.

All our Physiotherapists at Tamsin Hodgson Physiotherapy are certified in dry needling, and you’re welcome to read up about each Physiotherapist on our website to see who you’d prefer to book an appointment with.

Should you be thinking this may be a great way to exempt you from household/kid duties afterwards, no, we don’t write “sick” notes to partners.

We hope this shed some light on the benefits of dry needling.