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The what, why and how of Dry Needling

What is Dry Needling and how can it help?

Dry needling is a technique similar to acupuncture used for the treatment of muscular or myofascial pain. The technique involves specific insertion of filiform sterile single use needles to cause stimulation of a muscle (intramuscularly or from within the muscle). The needles are inserted without any substance being injected into the muscle (hence the term ‘dry’). The needles stimulate neurophysiological mechanisms and causes reflex relaxation of muscles. Overactive muscles, trigger points and muscle pain respond well to dry needling.

Dry needling has two effects on the muscles. The needles stimulate stretch receptors within a muscle and produce a reflex relaxation or lengthening. The needles also cause micro-trauma within the muscle which stimulates blood flow and initiates a healing process.

What is dry needling used for:

Dry needling is becoming a more common technique applied by health professional to target concerns such as:

  • Muscle pain

  • Muscle spasm

  • Muscle trigger points

  • Joint pain

  • Back pain

  • Neck pain

  • Shoulder pain

  • Headaches

Dry needling in generally avoided in those with intense phobia of needles, on anticoagulant medication or have lymphedema (mass swelling). Dry needling may be avoided under other circumstances dependent on the patient’s specific case.

What is the difference between chinese acupuncture and dry needling?

Acupuncture originated in china over 5000 years ago. Acupuncture focuses on the flow of chi or energy to maintain health. Acupuncture is performed by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners who spend multiple years learning this skill. The needles used in both dry needling and acupuncture are the same.

Dry needling or Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) was developed by Dr. Chan Dunn in the 1970’s. This technique uses acupuncture needles but applies them based on western anatomy and neurophysiological principles. Dry needling is performed by osteopaths, physiotherapists and chiropractors and is learnt through a post graduate course (after they have completed their university degree).

Benefits of Dry needling – Does dry needling work?

Therapeutic dry needling application with your osteopath can result in:

  • Decreased pain

  • Decreased muscle tension

  • Increased flexibility

  • Trigger point reduction

The benefits of dry needling can be really useful in the resolution of your aches and pain not only short term but complement your management plan in the long term.

Side Effects of dry needling:

As with all manual techniques there can be some side effects experienced by the receiver. Some common side effects include:

  • Bruising

  • Bleeding (local to where needle was applied)

  • Temporary muscle soreness

  • Fatigue

The specific risks for the application of dry needling in your case will be discussed in full within your consultation. It is important to understand both the risks and benefits of the dry needling technique before going ahead with treatment. If you have any questions about medical acupuncture, whether it is suitable or would like to book an appointment, please contact us on and we will be happy to answer any questions you have.


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