Dry Needling: It’s what all the cool kids are doing..

Do you sometimes touch yourself and realise that you have these hard little marbles growing beneath your skin and wonder what is up with that? Sometimes they’re so firm you probably think it’s actually a weird outgrowth of bone, or a tumour, or you’ve been implanted with a tracking device and you start freaking out. And then you tell your friend/mother/dog and they tell you to stop having such an overactive imagination, it’s just a knot in your muscle and no you’re not going to die or get abducted by aliens so please stop talking about it all the time, it’s giving them a headache.

So what to do about these weird little knots? And where did they come from? First let me ask you a question, are you reading this hunched over your laptop/iPad sitting on the couch with your shoulders up around your ears like a modern day Gollum? If the answer is yes, then you have your culprit. Knots, or myofascial trigger points, are formed when a muscle is overloaded, usually by sustained postures or repetitive movements. The strain causes sustained contraction of a small number of muscle fibres in a larger muscle or muscle bundle. This actually causes a constriction in the blood flow to the local area, which in turn triggers the release of sensitising substances that affect the nerves responsible for transmitting pain messages. This can result in pain and weakness in the local area and also in other areas far away from the trigger point (which can be why the area where you’re feeling the pain is not where the problem is).

So a lot of the knots you have might just be a result of your poor posture at your desk for 8 hours a day and then sitting slumped on the couch at night. Alternatively, they can be caused by an accident, like an injury or a fall of some kind which has caused the muscle to spasm. Muscles don’t just decide to let go of their spasm because it’s inconvenient for you and you ask them politely. No. They’re tough. If they were people, they’d live in the Bronx and would have you looking furtively over your shoulder. It’s time to get real with these knots. It’s time to fight fire with fire. It’s time…. to get your dry needling on.

If you’re one of the many uninitiated into the DNFC (Dry Needling Fan Club) allow me to illuminate you on exactly what it is. Basically, a therapist (who is trained in dry needling) will insert a new, sterilised acupuncture needle directly into the knot in the muscle. The aim is to illicit a ‘twitch response’ which is basically just when the muscle does a little ‘jump’ or spasm. The needle is thus moved around slightly in the trigger point until this is achieved. The patient would then usually feel an ache where the needle is, and sometimes in the other areas that they have been experiencing the pain. Several twitches may be elicited depending on how tight the knot is and the therapist’s discretion in determining the amount of work on that knot to cause a good release of the muscle. However, generally the needle is left in anywhere from 20 seconds to several minutes.

The results of dry needling when it is done properly can be quite astounding. Tight muscles that have previously not responded to treatment can become soft and relaxed, sometimes after one needle. Another benefit to dry needling is that it is a lot more effective when it comes to deeper knots, particularly in the glutes, where the trigger point can be over 7cm deep into the tissue (which is obviously very difficult to get to with massage). With dry needling, you are able to get that exact knot which may well be the one that is holding the muscle tight and giving you that awful, constant pain referral. It also allows several areas to be treated in the one session. This can mean fewer sessions, giving you more money to do fun stuff.

I know you’ve been waiting for me to tell you the downside. You’re old enough to know life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, there has to be a catch. Well, depending on how bad the knot it, sometimes it can be achy to have done. After having the needling you may get a ‘dead arm’ kind of feeling, a bit like the muscle soreness after doing a heavy workout at the gym. This can last for up to 48 hours (although normally it’s shorter in duration). The good news is that you get accustomed to this quite quickly, and with subsequent sessions you tend to have much less post treatment soreness. The other important point is that it’s common to get post treatment soreness with very deep tissue massage anyway. If you are willing to put up with a bit of discomfort you will be rewarded with relaxed, knot free muscles and a reduction in your movement restrictions and pain levels.

‘Well, sign me up!’ I hear you cry (I have exceptional hearing). If you would like to experience the wonder and magic that is dry needling for yourself, we have many physiotherapists, podiatrists and chiropractors trained to perform this service. Give our receptionists a call on 9421 1733 or send us an email: reception@perthpainfree.com.au. Mention this blog when you call and they will say, ‘oh, that’s nice’.