Dry Needling involves inserting acupuncture needles into tight knots or bands in the muscles. It has a sound physiological basis, and is a safe and effective form of pain management for musculoskeletal pain, inflammation, and osteoarthritis. (1)
Do they hurt?
The needles are only quarter of a millimetre thick, much narrower than a hypodermic syringe, so they tend to pass between body cells. Some patients don’t feel them, others describe an ache, warm feeling or dull burning. Occasionally someone feels nauseous, if patients do not like the needles we use other techniques to release the muscle tension.
What do they help with?
We apply the acupuncture needles into tight, inflamed and weak muscles. Research into their effect has established (1) that they:
- Relax tight muscles.
- Reduce pain by altering chemicals in parts of the brain and spinal cord which inhibit pain.
- Locally reduce inflammation causing less pain and swelling with more movement of the affected joints.
Meta-analyses and systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials provide evidence for effectiveness in treating (2,3,4,5)
- Osteoarthritis (wear and tear)
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Headaches and Migraines
- Tennis elbow
NICE(6) recommend acupuncture as a treatment or to be used in conjunction with other treatments for low back pain. We follow these guide lines for low back pain and many other conditions.
Recent Migraine Research
The randomised controlled trials that investigated migraine(7) concluded:
‘Acupuncture therapy can raise the migraineurs’ life quality, lessen the times and severity of headache attack, and its therapeutic effect is superior to that of medication.’
This is backed up by another study(8) that found 83% of patients experienced long term benefits from acupuncture compared to 57% with medication. Interestingly the levels of 5-HT (a marker for serotonin, medication for migraines commonly effects this) were measured and found to increase more through acupuncture than medication.
How do they work?
When a needle goes into a tight muscle it alters the nerve signals sent from muscle spindles to the spinal cord which in turn inhibits the nerves (the ventral horn cells) that dictate how tight or relaxed the muscle will be. The results of this is the muscle tone is reduced or more relaxed. Theoretically reducing muscle tone should help tendinitis, muscle spasm and muscle pain as well as reduce stress over joints.
1. Acupuncture for Pain Management Linda M. Rapson, MD, CAFCI; Robert Banner, MD, CCFP, FRCP(C) Geriatrics and Aging. 2008;11(2):93-97.
2. Acupuncture for Rheumatic Conditions: An Overview of Systematic Reviews. Edzard Ernst; Myeong Soo Lee; Rheumatology. 2010;49(10):1957-1961.
3. Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review Jing Yuan, PhD; Nithima Purepong, MSc; Daniel Paul Kerr, PhD; Jongbae Park, KMD, PhD; Ian Bradbury, PhD; Suzanne McDonough, PhD. Spine. 2008;33(23):E887-E900
4. Meta-analysis: acupuncture for low back pain. Manheimer E, White A, Berman B, et al. Ann Intern Med 2005;142:651-6.
5.Acupuncture and dry-needling for low back pain: an updated systematic review within the framework of the Cochrane Collaboration. Furlan AD, van Tulder M, Cherkin D, et al. Spine 2005;30:944-6.
6. NICE Guidelines: CG88 Low Back Pain. Quick Reference Guide. NICE Guidelines. Full Document
7. Randomized controlled clinical trials for acupuncture treatment of aura-absence migraine patients. Wu JP, Gu SZ. Accupuncture Research 2011 Apr;36(2):128-31, 149.
8. Effect of otopoint-needle embedment on headache and plasma 5-HT content in migraine patients. Jia CS, Zheng LY, Shi J, Ma XS, Li XF, Li WL, Zhu HJ. Accupuncture Research 2010 Dec;35(6):448-52, 473.