Technically, dry needling is the term used whenever needles are inserted into the skin without injecting a substance (hence the term “dry”).
Dry needling is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture, Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS), Gokavi Transverse Technique (GTT), Functional Dry Needling (FDN), and electroacupuncture. However, the method of use is different and based on each technique’s philosophy of pain and treatments.
When you think of acupuncture, you’re most likely thinking of the kind based in TCM, which inserts needles in points along meridians, or energy pathways, to balance energies in the body. In physiotherapy, dry needling is mostly used to target knots in the muscle (called trigger points) by inserting needles into trigger points to release the tightness in the muscle.
While acupuncture and dry needling are similar in that they use the same needles, increase blood circulation, can treat chronic pain conditions and are usually just one aspect of an overall treatment plan, dry needling is part of modern Western medicine principles.
IMS, GTT and FDN also differ from TCM acupuncture in application as needle insertion in indicated by physical signs; they are specialized systems for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain conditions when there is no obvious sign of injury or inflammation.
What does dry needling do?
Dry needling is like a reset button for your muscles. Muscles that are tight can cause pain that refers to other areas of the body. People that undergo dry needling typically see an improvement in their range of motion due to relaxed muscles increasing blood flow and reducing pain.
Dry needling can treat both acute and chronic pain, including fibromyalgia, frozen shoulder, plantar fasciitis, whiplash, low back pain, headaches, sciatica, and more. The number of treatments needed varies depending on your condition.
The needles used in traditional acupuncture and dry needling are the same. A qualified practitioner gently inserts sterilized, stainless steel needles, thinner than a human hair, that are disposed after each use.
In acupuncture, you may feel a tingling sensation. In dry needling, you may feel a sensation as the muscle grasps the needle, which then very quickly disappears and is followed by a feeling of relaxation in the muscle. It’s important to experience this sensation in order to gain lasting relief.
Is it safe?
Acupuncture is highly regulated in Canada. To maintain the high expectations of safety and reliability, physiotherapists and other healthcare providers must have the appropriate additional education and certification to perform acupuncture or dry needling.
Many health insurance plans are now including acupuncture in their coverage.