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Dry needling – Reset problematic muscles, decrease pain and improve function

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is an effective therapeutic intervention where a filament needle is used to release tight bands in muscles called trigger points, also known as knots. These knots can be painful with pressure, can refer pain over larger areas, and can also cause movement dysfunctions, which will lead to difficulty performing everyday tasks. Once inserted, the needle is advanced several times in and around the tight band to create what’s called a “twitch response” or as we describe it, a release of the muscle. Think of it as resetting the muscle, or when we quickly want to reboot our computers and we use ALT+CTRL+DEL. The needling technique is called “dry” because treatment of myofascial dysfunction was first discovered and treated using a “wet needling” (injection with anesthetic) method and has evolved to the solid filament needles we use today.

The X identifies the trigger point and shows the distribution area of the referred pain.
The X identifies the trigger point and shows the distribution area of the referred pain.

Will dry needling hurt?

The needles that are used are very thin and most patients will not even feel the needle penetrating through the skin initially, but once it advances into the muscle, the discomfort can vary from patient to patient. Usually a healthy muscle feels very little discomfort upon insertion of the needle. However, if the muscle is sensitive and shortened or contains active trigger points, the client may feel a sensation much like a muscle cramp, which is the “twitch response” mentioned earlier.

Insertion of needle into a trigger point
Insertion of needle into a trigger point

You may feel some soreness or heaviness immediately after treatment in the area that was treated and that can last up to a day. Some clients may even feel tired/fatigued, energized, giddy or “out of it” after treatment.

I’ve had acupuncture before…isn’t this the same?

Although some people refer to trigger point dry needling as a form of acupuncture, it did not originate as part of the practice of traditional Chinese acupuncture. The similarity begins and ends at the tool, which is the needle used. The differences are evident in the evaluative tools, the assessment, the application, and the overall treatment goal. With dry needling, there are distinct anatomical locations for myofascial trigger points within muscle tissue and the overall goal being to restore function, whereas acupuncture have point specificity on the body and the overall goal is to restore normal flow of energy.

The similarity with acupuncture begins and ends at the tool, which is the needle used.
The similarity with acupuncture begins and ends at the tool, which is the needle used.

Typically, positive results are apparent within 2-4 treatment sessions, but can vary depending on the cause and duration of the symptoms and overall health of the patient. Dry needling is an effective treatment for acute and chronic pain, rehabilitation from injury, and even pain and injury prevention, with very few side effects. This technique is unequaled in finding and eliminating neuromuscular dysfunction that leads to pain and functional deficits.

Would dry needling be something that you would ever consider trying to provide pain relief?

Jason Bellefleur
Jason Bellefleur is a multi-award-winning physiotherapist. Most recently, he was recognized as a 2016 Ottawa Forty Under 40 recipient and received numerous awards from the Orléans Chamber of Commerce (the 2011 Young Business Person of the Year, the 2012 Healthcare Professional of the Year and the 2014 Business Person of the Year awards). Jason is proud to be an Orléans resident and to raise his family in a bilingual community. He enthusiastically promotes local business within the Orléans area and frequently supports and participates in local events. Jason was recognized for his community involvement by receiving the Orleans 150 Community Builder award in 2017 by Ottawa-Orléans MPP Marie-France Lalonde. Jason firmly believes in high-quality one-on-one physiotherapy interventions. His treatment approach emphasizes hands-on intervention, continued client education, and active involvement by the individual to help them reach their full potential. By opening a clinic that offers 'Higher Standards of Care,' Jason wants his patients to feel confident that they receive the highest level of patient care available. As a result, he is also preventing injury and helping to improve their health and well-being.

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