What is Trigger Point Dry Needling in Physiotherapy?
Trigger point dry needling, also often referred to as dry needling or intramuscular stimulation, is a treatment technique used by skilled, highly trained physiotherapists to help resolve acute or chronic injuries associated with muscle (myofascial) pain conditions.
Stressed or injured muscles often develop myofascial trigger points or contractures that feel like ‘knots’ in the muscle, which can be quite sensitive, limit mobility & strength, trigger headaches, tighten muscles that compress nerves & joints, and they frequently refer pain to other areas of the body. Dry needling or intramuscular stimulation (IMS) may be thought of as a means of “undoing the knots” by massaging the affected muscle fibres with a needle tip, which can reach deeper muscle fibres more easily than regular massage techniques might reach.
What Equipment is used for Trigger Point Dry Needling?
We use thin acupuncture needles (filiform needles) which do not inject any medication or substances, and this is why it’s called “dry” needling. Some of the original research that led to this technique involved the use of “wet” needles, syringes used for injecting pain-killing medication into sore muscles. Doctors and researchers came to the realization that the needles provided relief even without the medication, and that acupuncture needles can do the job with minimal discomfort.
Dry needling is usually used in conjunction with other physiotherapy exercises and treatment interventions. It can also be used in conjunction with acupuncture, which uses the same tools (the needles) in a different manner.
Is trigger point dry needling or IMS different than acupuncture?
The answer is yes; Dry needling involves the same acupuncture needles, directed at the so-called ‘knots’ (trigger points) in the myofascial musculoskeletal structures (your muscles) to shrink or break up the offending trigger points. Acupuncture on the other hand typically uses multiple needles inserted in known acupoints to influence the human nervous system and energy pathways (called meridians) for local and systemic effects on health, based on a combination of Eastern (Chinese) and Western medicine theories.
The use of needles involves an additional layer of education after university. Some therapists are trained/certified in acupuncture. Some therapists are trained/certified in trigger point dry needling. TAWA Physical Therapy has physiotherapists trained in both acupuncture and dry needling, with the knowledge and experience to use needles for optimal outcomes.
Which is better acupuncture or dry needling?
Dry needling is not necessarily better or worse than acupuncture, but it is important to understand the difference between the two.
Is dry needling and acupuncture covered by insurance plans?
As long as your health benefit plan includes physiotherapy, then the answer is yes. When a physiotherapist provides the treatment, then dry needling and/or acupuncture falls under the umbrella of “physiotherapy (with needles)” as far as billing to insurance is concerned. This differs from the way a Registered Acupuncturist might invoice to the ‘acupuncture’ category of your health benefit plan.
What conditions can be treated with dry needling (or IMS)?
Most conditions treated by physiotherapists, massage therapists, or chiropractors can potentially benefit from trigger point dry needling, as most painful conditions have a muscular or myofascial component. A few of the most common examples include the following:
- Back or neck pain & tension
- Shoulder or rotator cuff problems
- Tendinitis (such as tennis elbow or achilles tendinitis)
- Tension headaches
- Sciatica & piriformis syndrome
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Frozen shoulder
- IT Band syndrome
- Muscle cramps
- Anything diagnosed as ‘myofascial pain syndrome’