Patients of Peninsula may well have come across the technique of Dry Needling. This is where a very fine needle is placed in the body of a shortened or tightened muscle to help relax it. The relaxation of the muscle often leads to relief of pain.
Why Dry Needling?
Muscle shortening is at the base of many musculoskeletal conditions from low back pain to tennis elbow. If a muscle shortens from injury, stress or even abnormal innervation (where the nerve serving the muscle tells the muscle to contract more than it should) pain syndromes may begin.
There are a number of techniques which we use to lengthen shortened muscle; these include manipulation, manual trigger point work, stretching techniques and exercises.
One of the most effective and least painful ways to lengthen these tight muscles is to use the insertion of a very fine needle (typically with a gage of 1/4 mm) into the body of the muscle which by reflex stimulation leads to its lengthening.
Why does encouraging the muscle to lengthen reduce pain?
A short muscle will produce pain in several ways;
• trigger points in short muscles can be sources of pain.
• tight muscles pull on their tendonous insertions producing “tendonitis” like symptoms for example Lateral Epicondylitis or Bicipital tendonitis.
• short muscles may produce a pull on related joints which may misalign them or cause them to function painfully.
• short muscles can sometimes interfere with the normal path of a nerve, irritating it and causing pain in a remote part of the body (sometimes leg pain that comes form the low back can be caused like this.)
Does Dry Needling hurt?
Generally because the needle is so thin there is only a very mild prickle when the needle is inserted. If the muscle is severely shortened or in spasm, there can be a deep ache or cramping sensation. This is generally not too distressing and most patients find it very tolerable. More people have problems with a phobia of needles than have a fear of the mild discomfort produced.
Are there any side effects?
As long as the practitioner understands anatomy sufficiently there are very few side effects. Side effects are very rare but when they do happen the most frequent and the most serious is that of a pneumothorax. This is where a needle pierces the lung leading to its partial or full collapse. This happens mostly when a needle is inserted into the Trapezius muscle in a certain way and too deeply. That technique is not used here at Peninsula.
Dry Needling and being a Blood Donor.
If a patient who receives dry needling is also a blood donor they will have to have a certificate from Peninsula identifying us. The Blood transfusion Service will take these certificates as evidence of best and safe practice and allow further donations to be made.
Is Dry Needling Acupuncture?
No. Acupuncture is based on the ancient Chinese philosophy of the balance of Yin and Yang. Needling certain points along 'meridians' aid this process. Intramuscular Dry Needling or IMS is a method of reducing chronic pathological muscle shortening using needles.
Gunn C C. 1996. “The Gunn Approach to the Treatment of Chronic Pain”
Churchill Livingstone (2nd Ed)