Needles are associated with pain, and injections have been a dreadful prospect for most. How about a needle that relieves pain — that too without medication?
We are not talking about a painkiller injection here. Dry needling, an alternative approach employed by many physiotherapists to manage pain, is used to treat back pain, tennis elbow or even muscle stiffness, cramps or sprains. It has a proven track record in curing musculoskeletal pain.
Dry needling and trigger points
“In dry needling, a monofilament, single filiform needle is inserted into the body, but without any medicine or therapeutic drug inside it,” says Azmathulla Khan, physiotherapist and co-founder at Physiomatix, Bengaluru.
During the process, the therapist tries to release muscle tension by manipulating the trigger points.
“A trigger point (TrP) is a hyperirritable spot in the taut (tight) bands of the skeletal muscles or fascia,” says Pooja Pandey Tripathi, founder of Arogya Physiotherapy, Bengaluru.
Compressing a trigger point or contracting the muscles can bring out a local twitch response.
“Trigger point involves an involuntary contraction of a muscle which is not able to relax on its own and, when left untreated over a period of time, becomes knotted or slightly bulged up,” adds Khan.
Releasing the trigger point will ease the tension in the muscles and thereby relieve the pain.
Types of dry needling
“On the basis of depth, it can be divided into deep and superficial dry needling,” says Tripathi.
In superficial dry needling, the needle is inserted to a depth of 10mm in the subcutaneous tissue. It can be easily administered, reduces the risk of skin trauma or nerve and injury, and also provides comfort to the individual.
Deep dry needling involves the insertion of the needle beyond the subcutaneous tissue into the muscle with the intention of reaching myofascial trigger points.
Resolving the pain
During dry needling, one might feel a slight prick, something similar to an ant bite.
“Dry needling creates micro trauma to the area you want to treat,” says Khan. “The needle causes an acute inflammation at that specific area so that the body’s immune system recognises it and responds to it as a new injury. So basically, with the help of dry needling, you’re triggering your body’s natural phenomenon to heal itself.”
After the process, one may feel a slight tightness or soreness near the insertion site. There can be mild bruising or bleeding. Stiffness and fatigue may also happen. It’s important to keep moving and stretching for the discomfort and slight pain to wane.
Dry needling for pain management
An important tool in pain management, dry needling is used to treat various kinds of musculoskeletal pain — back pain, neck pain, wrist injuries, sprains, strains or sports injuries.
“Dry needling helps in reducing pain and inflammation by accelerating your body’s natural healing process and increasing blood circulation, thus reducing muscular tension,” says Tripathi. “If the muscle twitches because of the needle piercing, it’s a clear sign that the therapy is working.”
A therapy session of dry needling for back pain and tennis elbow is very common.
“It also helps in relieving osteoarthritis pain, tendinopathies like golfers’ elbow, tennis elbow, rotator cuff injury, groin or pelvic pain, headache, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), frozen shoulder, repetitive motion disorder like carpel tunnel syndrome, phantom pain, scar tissue pain, disc related pain, etc.,” adds Tripathi.
The scope of dry needling goes beyond pain management. Some athletes go for this therapy to open their muscles and increase flexibility. It is used after a match or tournament to recover from sore and tired muscles.
“Athletes like marathon runners get dry needling therapy before the event to release the trigger point or contracted muscles, so that they gain the flexibility back and perform better,” says Khan. “Post-event, athletes use it excessively for relaxation and muscle recovery.”
- Dry needling uses a monofilament, single filiform needle, which is inserted into the body but without any medicine or therapeutic drug inside it.
- The needle causes an acute inflammation that triggers the body’s immune system to heal itself.
- It is used to manage or relieve musculoskeletal pain — back pain, osteoarthritis pain, tennis elbow, etc.