In the realm of alternative and complementary therapies, dry needling has gained popularity as a valuable technique in the field of osteopathy. Often mistaken for acupuncture due to its use of thin needles, dry needling is a distinct therapeutic approach that offers numerous benefits for musculoskeletal conditions. This article aims to shed light on what dry needling is and how it can benefit individuals seeking relief from various pain and mobility issues.
Understanding Dry Needling
Dry needling is a specialized technique within the scope of osteopathic practice that involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific trigger points, also known as myofascial trigger points, within muscles and connective tissues. These trigger points are knots or tight bands of muscle fibers that can cause pain and discomfort when compressed or contracted.
Unlike acupuncture, which is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine and focuses on balancing the body's energy flow (Qi), dry needling operates on a Western medicine-based understanding of neuroanatomy and physiology. The primary goal of dry needling is to elicit a mechanical, biochemical, and physiological response that promotes the release of muscle tension and triggers the body's natural healing mechanisms.
How Dry Needling Works
During a dry needling session, a skilled osteopath inserts thin, solid needles directly into trigger points, aiming to cause a local twitch response in the muscle. This involuntary twitching is believed to release tension within the muscle fibers, increase blood circulation to the area, and stimulate the body's production of natural pain-relieving chemicals like endorphins and enkephalins.
Additionally, the insertion of needles can disrupt dysfunctional neuromuscular patterns, encouraging the muscles to return to their optimal state of function. By targeting specific trigger points, dry needling aims to alleviate pain, improve joint mobility, and restore overall musculoskeletal balance.
Benefits of Dry Needling in Osteopathy
Dry needling stands as a promising technique within the realm of osteopathy, offering a range of benefits for individuals seeking relief from pain, improved mobility, and enhanced quality of life. Through its targeted approach to trigger points and its focus on Western medicine principles, dry needling has gained recognition as a complementary therapy that aligns well with the holistic philosophy of osteopathic practice. For those looking to explore non-invasive options for addressing musculoskeletal issues, dry needling is certainly worth considering under the guidance of a qualified osteopath.
When you bend a joint it undergoes what osteopaths refer to as a 'prime movement'
This is initiated by the agonist muscle or groups of muscles and decelerated or stabilised by the antagonist group(s).
In order this occurs without injury, the joint(s) have to move freely but with enough stability and coordination to avoid excessive glide or shear.
This relies on appropriate muscle strength and coordination and correct nerve firing and balanced joint range of motion.
Most people would be unable to tell if they had a large joint like a hip restricted, let alone one within the spine.
Here's where the plot thickens..
1. Most people don't know they have in imbalance/restriction in the spine as it won't initially cause symptoms
2. Many times we can make inappropriate movements and cause micro-trauma. Tears/damage so small that in isolation cause no issues. Until that is, they build up, repeatedly at the same location- "all of a sudden my back went" is usually the opening gambit we hear in consult.
These are two example of accessory motion, a motion that occurs incidentally and to a degree is absolutely normal.
1. There is an imbalance with the supporting agonist/antagonist muscles- take a forward bend/ flexion hinge in the spine by way of example. As you bend forwards the joints compress slightly at the front and open at the back. In certain spinal joints in the low back, as you reach a certain degree of forward flexing, like a skier facing down a slope, the vertebra will want to glide or shear forwards. If this accompanying (accessory motion) occurs to the right degree, it helps give amazing flexibility to the spine if it is controlled throughout the motion and decelerated appropriately, no problems arise.
2. Restricted joints place more pressure on other joints creating hypermobility. This increase over normal range, particularly involving accessory motion makes the spine much more vulnerable. Like a screw in a loose hole, it can become ever more likely to 'cross thread' and catch at the wrong angle. In the case of a back, this catch can pinch part of the joint capsule or nerve resulting in sudden pain and protective muscle spasm around the joint.
3. They also must receive adequate neural input throughout the action. After injury, joints lose something called proprioception. This is essentially balance feedback and can be relearnt.
It is one of the prime goals of spinal rehabilitation.