What is Dry Needling, and what is it used for?

What is Dry Needling, and what is it used for?

By Nordic Balance

Are you wincing in pain at the thought? Don’t worry; although we usually see dry needling in cartoons as a series of painful jabs (it feels like a classic Tom and Jerry sketch), the reality is far more soothing. In fact, very few of our clients were previously aware of the remarkable benefits of dry needling.


There’s a reason why dry needling is such a long-standing traditional medicine – it achieves incredible all-body benefits, it is revered for its all-natural approach, and (don’t worry!) it’s nowhere near as painful as the cartoons depict.


We’re determined to reverse the stereotypes of dry needling. So, for this blog post, we spoke to the Nordic Balance acupuncture specialists. They’ve shared their expert knowledge of this traditional treatment, including how it works, why it works, and the many benefits that it has to offer.


What is dry needling?


Dry needling or Western acupuncture is a method of therapeutic treatment designed to alleviate, reduce and sometimes neutralise musculoskeletal pain throughout the body.


From an outsider’s perspective, the technique of dry needling seems pretty straightforward. However, if you delve beneath the surface, it is based on a thorough understanding of the body’s complex interactions. It can achieve some profoundly interesting and systemic effects on the body.


It involves inserting fine needles into specific areas of the body to release the tension within particular tissues after the patient has reported the symptom.


Multiple needles are usually used during the treatment. These are about 0.25mm in diameter (to give you a sense of scale, the diameter of an average human hair is about 0.1mm) and vary in length.


What does a typical dry needling treatment feel like?


Your therapist will start by asking questions about your medical history, including any previous injuries, before discussing your current conditions or problems.


Suppose the therapist deems dry needling to be the correct treatment choice for you. In that case, they will then ask you to remove the appropriate clothing, place you on the comfortable treatment table and then start to palpate the area where you are experiencing muscle tension.


The therapist will look for hard nodules (commonly referred to as knots) underneath the skin. These are located within muscles/fascia, are tender to touch and often contribute to pain in other body areas. These are called trigger points.


Once identified, the therapist will gently insert the needle(s) in and around the trigger point. Then, they will use a pumping motion to evoke a slight contraction from the muscle. This is called an LTR (Local Twitch Response).


It might sound slightly frightening, but this reaction is perfectly fine – it simply means that the needles are precisely where they should be and that the muscles are reacting to the physical connection from the needles to muscles by twitching these specific muscle fibres.


The therapist might choose to insert multiple needles. These could either all be in one area or spread out across a larger surface of the body. Once inserted, the needles may be kept under the skin for anything from a couple of seconds to several minutes, depending on the severity of the tissue tension.


For one reason or another, patients can feel a slight feeling of soreness in the treated area after dry needling. But this usually disappears within a few hours, after the treatment has finished.


How does dry needling work?


The mechanisms of dry needling are pretty complex. The therapy deals with different interactions between muscle tissue, nervous tissue and neurotransmitters, using their interrelation to the advantage of the therapist.


As you can imagine, it’s pretty complex. So let’s stick with the basic principles here.


When a needle is inserted under the skin, it creates an immediate response from the nervous system. As far as the body is concerned, inserting needles under the skin is considered an attack on the body.


Because the body considers the needles to be foreign objects, it will respond by flooding the area with freshly oxygenated, nutrient-dense blood.


So, dry needling tricks the body into sending fresh blood (which muscles and soft tissues use to repair themselves) to an injured or tense area. Think about it like using a high-pressure jet to clean your gutter.


Are dry needling and Eastern acupuncture the same thing?


They are in the same family, but they differ in a number of crucial ways, mainly in terms of philosophy.


Dry needling (which is also commonly referred to as Western acupuncture) differs from Eastern acupuncture in its approach. Eastern acupuncture is practised across China, and it is shaped by the beliefs of traditional Chinese medicine and its centuries-old philosophies. These centre upon the idea of chi and other energies within the body.


Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean acupuncture holds the belief that “life energy” circulates through the body, through ‘meridians’. By inserting needles in particular points on these meridians, acupuncturists can either remove or add energy to the body and thereby create changes within it.


Western acupuncturists have reinterpreted this traditional approach and shaped a version of the technique that focuses on a scientific approach to acupuncture, using our knowledge of muscles, the nervous system and neurotransmitters.


Dry needling (or Western acupuncture) involves using needles to affect the muscular system, nervous system, ligament system and sometimes the digestive system.


Both techniques use needles, but the way they use them is different – just like a clockmaker and a bricklayer, both disciplines use hammers, but in very different ways.


What are the benefits of dry needling?


The ultimate goal of dry needling is to release tension within a tissue that, for one reason or another, has lost its ability to relax.


Beyond this treatment of musculoskeletal pain or tension, the benefits of dry needling include:

– Dry needling can be used for both local issues (to treat ailments including trigger points, headaches and joint pain) as well as more systemic conditions (including ME and aiding post-surgery recovery).
– Helping to improve flexibility
– Enhancing and easing the full range of movement
– Boosting blood flow
– Quickly relieving pain
– Increasing the speed of post-operative recovery
– Reducing the symptoms of chronic or long-term musculoskeletal pain conditions
– Offering a natural, chemical-free treatment


We have a talented team of therapists specialising in natural treatments, including dry needling, at our Abbeville Road and Wimbledon Village sites.


So, if you have any further questions about dry needling, or if you want to explore its benefits for yourself, pop into our clinics or give us a call today.


The article was written by Sports Therapist, Loic Lefevre. Appointments with Loic are available at our Abbeville Road clinic in Clapham.

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