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Dry Needling: How Does it Work?

February 5, 2024

Every day I have patients come into the clinic and receive dry needling. Most of these people have never had dry needling before and have little to no idea what it does. Once a week, I also have a patient ring the clinic and tell me that they have been recommended to get dry needling by a friend, who received enormous benefits from it. Nearly all of these patient don’t even know if it will be beneficial for them but have set their sights on it in hope that it will final ease their pain.

So what is dry needling? Dry needling techniques were developed by Janet Travell (J.F.K. physician) in the mid twentieth century. Janet had a theory that a significant amount of pain originated from muscle and fascia. To prove this she decided to see if the pain could be reduced by injecting Lidocaine into the muscle (Wet Needling). When she noticed a twitch response to the insertion of the needle that corresponded with a decrease in pain, she realised that the insertion was effective without the side effects of the Lidocaine. She then termed the insertion of the syringe without injection of the medication as ‘Dry Needling’.

So how does the insertion of a needle ease pain and assist in rehab? The insertion of the needle separates out the cells in the injured/painful area. This results in a release of chemical for the cells that increases blood supply. This is a natural response to tissue damage. So the dry needling is aiming to simulate damage within the soft tissues. This increase in blood supply results in an increase on oxygenated blood which help to relax muscles that are tense, while also bringing nutrients to help repair damaged tissues. These processes help to decrease pain and stimulate repair of the tissues.