About Pins and Needles

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Roxanne Francis, Physiotherapist at Nightingale Health Services, tells us about the benefits of dry needling for muscle pain and mobility.

Daily life takes its toll on our bodies; how we sit, regular use of electronic devices and even our exercise regime are common culprits that can affect our posture and cause discomfort. Lower back and neck pain are among the top contributors to chronic pain in adults, and more than one in four Americans has a musculoskeletal condition that requires medical attention.

With this degree of prevalence, it’s easy to assume some level of discomfort is normal – but it shouldn’t be. When our bodies experience strain or poor posture on a regular basis, it affects the way we move and the mobility of our joints and muscles. As a physio, we focus on alleviating pain and restoring functional movement. One of the most effective new treatment methods we’ve seen in recent years is dry needling.

Developed in the 1980s, dry needling is designed to address specific trigger points in the deep knotted areas of your muscles that cause pain. It also improves mobility, where range of motion is reduced due to muscle tightness, scar tissue, or other restrictions in the connective tissue. Dry needling can be used for various musculoskeletal issues, such as shoulder, neck, heel, hip and back pain, as well as sports injuries, headaches, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia.

What does it involve?

During your session, the practitioner inserts filiform needles into the skin – these are fine, short, stainless steel needles. The term “dry” is used because they don’t inject any fluid or medication into the body.

The needles are placed into the trigger points (knots) of tight or tender muscles to provoke a local twitch response. This response releases the trigger point, allows blood flow to return to the restricted area, and relieves the muscle spasm. As a result, it reduces pain and helps to restore proper movement.

How long the needles are placed depends on the area and type of pain; it can range from a few seconds to several minutes. After the treatment, you may experience short-term soreness in the muscle being treated for up to 48 hours – your physio can recommend some gentle stretches to help.

One of the main benefits is that pain relief from dry needling is usually felt very quickly after any initial soreness disappears. Often only one session is needed, and the average is around two or three.

Is it the same as acupuncture?

A common misconception is that acupuncture and dry needling are interchangeable, but that’s not the case. The needles are the same, but that’s where the similarities end. Based on ancient Asian practice, acupuncture has been around for thousands of years. As opposed to stimulating muscular trigger points, it’s believed to unblock a person’s energy flow or chi. It is usually used for internal ailments, including digestive problems, insomnia, and stress. A licensed acupuncturist will insert needles into points along the meridian lines to promote inner ‘balance’, and the needles are usually left in place for 15 to 30 minutes.

A combined approach

Dry needling is usually included in a wider treatment plan combined with other forms of physical therapy and exercise. Yoga and Pilates work especially well to strengthen muscles as part of any rehabilitation programme, helping to promote proper function, increase awareness of your alignment, and prevent future injury. Although they’re low impact and considered gentle, it’s still important to avoid overstretching, as working the muscle or joint too hard can contribute to myofascial pain and dysfunction.

Make sure you warm up slowly before activating the muscles fully, and ease yourself into any difficult poses. Our sedentary lifestyle is one reason why we need to stretch and relieve soreness in weak areas such as the glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and low back, but we need to be extra careful when they’re tight. Keep your core engaged when you’re doing any movement that involves the lower back and don’t be tempted to push through any pain; instead, speak to your instructor.

The physiotherapists at Nightingale Health Services are qualified dry needling practitioners and will be able to assess whether dry needling is a suitable option as part of your treatment plan. Contact 800 UAE.

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