Dry needling – a modern solution to pain and injury

Dry needling – a modern solution to pain and injury

Our therapists at BodyWorx Physio in Newcastle, Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens often use dry needling as part of our treatment program to successfully treat a range of conditions. The use of needles in medicine has been around for thousands of years in eastern medicine modalities like acupuncture and chinese medicine. In the last few decades increasing research has come out as to the physiological affects needling can have on the body. Physiotherapists have been at the forefront of utilising this new tool  to increase healing rates and improve function in their patients.


Doctor uses needles for treatment of the patient

Multiple needles can be used to stimulate bigger areas for treatment.

How is Dry Needling different to Accupuncture?

Accupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine are based on meridians and energy channels or Qui. It is thought these form channels and connect the various body parts and organs. The theory being that by altering the movement of energy within these channels the function and health of the person can be improved.

In contrast, dry needling as performed by our Physios is based on western medicine. When we insert needles into a patient this is to create a localised reaction within the tissues. This results in an alteration of the local physical environment and function of that area.

How does Dry Needling help to fix injuries or decrease pain?

1) Increased blood flow: When a needle is inserted into the body kit creates a local vasodilation effect. This means the blood vessels in that area open up and temporarily increase blood flow through this area. The area is normally about the size of a 20c piece or roughly 2-3cm across. It is often visualised in people with very pale skin as a small red blush around the needle. This increase blood flow helps to increase nutrient and oxygen flow through the injured area. Good blood flow is vital in injuries such as tendinopathies where blood supply to the structure is often poor.
2) Localised immune response: the insertion of a needle is the invasion of a foreign body into a closed system. The body reacts to this by mobilising its local immune defences. This often is not visualised easily though in some people there is a more extreme reaction and the removal of the needles will reveal small bumps similar to a mosquito bite. These lumps tend to return to normal over 5-10mins. This immune reaction is also useful in areas where there is poor healing and needs a boost to stimulate quicker recovery.
3) Altered nerve activity: the presence of the needle can stimulate the nervous system. There are a number of theories on how exactly it does this either through direct interaction or pain mediating chemical pathways. The normal affect decrease in the resting tone or tightness of the treated muscles. This can be highly useful in cases such as upper neck pain/headaches and spasming glutes.

I’m afraid of needles. Does it hurt?

Put simply- most of the time no. It’s more surprising, with some dull, achy or heavy sensation while they are in place. A lot of people describe it a bit like a dead leg feeling. Some people don’t even realise they have been put in.

When treating people we find the majority of patients reports that the initial insertion of the needles either feels like a bindi or not even feeling it. The occasional spot can stimulate a nerve that winds around sweat glands. These are invisible to the naked eye and can sting a little. If this occurs the needle is removed and inserted again. It is basically impossible to hit the same sweat gland again as these structures are so incredibly tiny.
When the needles are inserted further to reach the target muscles clients will often report feeling a little shock or surprise sensation. This then settles into a deep dull heavy or achy sensation while the needles are left in place. Some people also report a gentle throb or tingling sensation. These are all just signs that the body is reacting to the needling.

What conditions can be treated with dry needling?

Our physiotherapists use dry needling in their treatment programs to treat a range of injuries including: plantarfasciitis, shoulder impingement/rotator cuff problems, low back pain, cervicogenic headaches, sciatica and muscle tears to name a few. It is not used as a stand alone treatment but as an addition to the exemplary care that our therapists already offer. So if you really don;t like needles we can still work with you to achieve your goals and get you living pain free by utilising other skills and treatment techniques.

Are there any dangers with dry needling?

Yes – if you receive needling from someone who has improper training or does not take the required care in preparation there can be negative outcomes including:
-Infection: we use Aqium and sterile single use needles to avoid this
-Punctured lung: when treating the traps or upper back area its essential to angle the needle correctly. All our therapists have been officially assessed for safety in this technique as part of their training program recognised by the Australian Physio Association.
-Needle breakage: we only use single use needles which are incredible flexible and strong (this is a requirement in Australia, but be careful overseas).
-Bruising: this occasionally happens and results is a small round bruise usually about the size of a 10-20c piece. Sometimes very small blood vessels are affected and cause a ‘sub-dermal bleed’. This is not a major concern, but it will often develop some amazing colours as it resolves.

Can you use Dry Needling on kids?

Yes, needling can be used from kids right through to the elderly. As long as they are happy to try it. We will often talk to children if we think it will help them and assess wether they are comfortable to try along with getting permission from their parent or guardian. As with adults if the thought of needles frightens or upsets them we will no use it as it would just distress them.

I’m on anti-clotting medication, will that affect the needling?

For the majority of patients on anti-clotting medication it is still safe to have needling performed. As the needles are so fine it usually is not a problem and at most may cause a small drop of blood or minor bruise as mentioned above. Please tell your therapist though anyway before they commence needling.

To see a demonstration check out this short clip of Jason Bradley performing dry needling on a physio client in our Newcastle clinic.

If you’d like to find out more about dry needling you can book an appointment on 4952 7033 or jump on our facebook page or website and book online.

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