Dry Needling: A physiotherapy service

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a treatment technique that allied and alternative health practices all across Australia utilise. It is touted as a muscle release technique, targeting trigger points or irritable locations in the muscles.

Who can administer dry needling?

Dry needling is a technique that is mostly unregulated in the health industry. Anyone who has completed some form of training is allowed to perform the treatment. The training required to administer dry needling is also quite minimal, with most training organisations offering weekend courses for health professionals.

If you decide to receive dry needling treatment, it is best to look for a licensed health professional with adequate education and training, like a physiotherapist or general practitioner. They understand the body in more detail and will have extensive knowledge of human anatomy.

What you can expect from dry needling

Needles with a diameter of approximately 0.18mm are inserted into the injured or sore muscles. The needles come with a guide tube to assist the practitioner incorrectly inserting the needle. Once the needles are inserted, they will usually stay there for about 10-15 minutes for the most significant effect.

Dry needling treatment:

Dry needling treatment is considered a tool in the armoury of a physiotherapist. It is rare to use dry-needling as a stand-alone treatment method, more likely your physiotherapist will use it in conjunction with many other treatment techniques.

The treatment itself lasts no more than 10-15 minutes usually and is a relaxing way to end a session. Your physiotherapist may use a heat pack to enhance the relaxation further.

Goals / outcomes of dry needling

The goal for treatment is to relieve pain and muscle spasms in the body. Dry needling can be used in conjunction with multiple other therapy options by your physiotherapist. Some patients respond well to needling; as such, your physio will continue to use it as a treatment option. The goal of physiotherapy, in general, is to allow you to return to normal function and independence as soon as possible.

Risks of dry needling

There are a few common complaints that patients have following treatment:

These are unlikely to occur often; however, you must notify your practitioner if you are on any blood thinners or are susceptible to bruising or bleeding.

One of the most significant risk factors of dry needling is unsafe needle use. All practitioners should be using single-use sterilised needles that are disposed of after each use.

What does the research say?

The research on dry needling is mixed and requires further investigation. The most comprehensive study comes from the paper “Acupuncture and dry-needling for low back pain: an updated systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane collaboration” by Furlan et. al.

Their research concluded that for chronic low back pain, dry needling is effective for pain relief and functional improvement in the short term. There is minimal evidence for the benefit of dry needling in acute low back pain.

Frequently asked questions

These are the Top 5 questions regarding dry needling.

1. How painful is dry needling?

It is normal to be apprehensive about an invasive treatment option like dry needling! We imagine a large, painful needle, much like a vaccination. In reality, the needles are incredibly delicate and will rarely cause pain. You may experience a mild and very short-lived pain upon insertion of a needle. Most patients will feel a slight dull ache following treatment; this can last between 30mins and a few hours usually. If you have an adverse reaction to treatment, it is essential to let your physiotherapist know.

2. What is the difference between acupuncture and dry needling?

The most significant difference between acupuncture and dry needling is the length of time these practices have been in use. Acupuncture is an ancient practice born in Chinese medicine. They believe that yin and yang (opposing forces of nature) then become unbalanced with life. Acupuncture can help restore the balances of yin and yang.

Dry needling, on the other hand, is a much more modern technique of treatment, born in Western medicine. The primary goal of dry needling is to reduce muscle tension and spasms in problematic areas of the body. In a way, you should imagine dry needling as a more direct method of treatment.

3. Does dry needling work?

Dry needling is a modern technique which in the scheme of medicine, is very new. As such, there is not a tremendous amount of research yet to support it. Some preliminary studies are showing some promise, especially in the treatment of more chronic conditions like low back pain.

4. Is dry needling safe?

The short answer is yes! The needles used are quite delicate, so the risk of injury is quite minimal. Check with your practitioner to ensure they are following all of the recommended safety protocols for the use of dry needling. If you have a medical condition that may increase your risk of injury, then you should tell your practitioner before they use dry needling as a treatment.

5. What is dry needling good for?

Dry needling is used for a variety of injuries and problems. The most common are;

If you think dry needling would be beneficial for you, speak to your local physiotherapist and see if this is a treatment they offer.

People also ask

1. How much does dry needling cost?

Physiotherapists rarely use dry needling as a stand-alone treatment; as such, the cost should be included within your typical treatment session. Some physios will charge an additional fee to cover the cost of the needles, as they are single-use and need to be safely disposed of after treatment.

2. Does health insurance cover dry needling?

Dry needling is an additional service within a physiotherapy treatment session. You will find your health insurance will cover your physiotherapy as long as you have the appropriate extras cover.

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