The interesting thing about dry needling is that although there is a large amount of scientific evidence and studies (source) to back up how effective this form of treatment is. There is a lot that’s unknown about it. So, how does dry needling work exactly?
In its simplest form, inserting dry needles into specific points on the body stimulates chemical and electrical activity from the brain to the body. These signals can block or reduce pain and stimulate the body’s natural healing process to work more effectively.
As the name suggests, dry needling relies on using dry needles that are very fine and solid in construction. The needles pierce the skin and enter the tissue at targeted trigger points on the body. This then causes the brain to send out these signals. Patients will notice their body twitching at the area being treated, this is perfectly normal and a sign that the treatment is working.
Once the tissue is twitching the muscles in that area will relax. When the muscles relax there is improved circulation to the area, the tissues can repair quicker. As a result, the pain and inflammation will reduce. Some patient’s notice an immediate reduction in pain. While other people and specific injuries can take several treatments over a few weeks as the pain slowly reduces.
You may have read about trigger points and trigger point therapy before. It’s the trigger points that are targeted in acupuncture, trigger point therapy, dry needling, and other treatments that are looking for similar results. Yet there is a lot that is unknown about trigger points exactly and how they work.
I’ve looked into trigger points and myofascial release in great detail over the years and experienced most of the types of treatments available. I can confirm it’s very effective at reducing pain, restoring mobility, recovering strength, and the other benefits attached to the treatments. It’s still a little bit of a mystery how it works exactly however, this is how I see it:
Restoring the Flow of Blood and Oxygen
A good flow of blood and oxygen to any area of the body is important. Especially any area that’s damaged, tissues rely on fresh blood supply to heal. Muscle fibres and tissues degrade if there is not a good supply of nutrients and blood available.
Using dry needling techniques you open up the pathways for increased blood flow which helps reduce the swelling, heal damaged tissues, and relieve pain. Relaxing the muscle also aids this recovery which is a known effect from needling.
Stimulating the Brain and Body
There is something powerful about stimulating the brain to send signals to the body. This is what dry needling does as the needles hit the trigger points. When you have tissue damage the nerves become damaged and can fail to heal properly without this kind of intervention.
The twitching that is experienced with dry needling is a direct result of the brain sending signals to the area being treated and a good sign that it’s working. The endorphins and other feel good chemicals that are released by the brain also help to reduce pain and stimulate the healing process.