Whilst it is still a relatively unknown treatment in the western world, dry needling is growing in popularity, and is known for its effectiveness in treating musculoskeletal conditions. But, can it get rid of knots, or trigger points? In this article, we discuss whether or not dry needling can indeed relieve muscular tension, how it works, and how long it lasts.
So, does dry needling get rid of knots? Dry needling is well known for its effectiveness in relieving muscle tension, such as knots, or trigger points. The inserted needles are thought to improve blood flow and stimulate the affected muscles, causing them to contract and relax as normal, resulting in a return to regular function.
Read on to learn more about the effectiveness of dry needling on muscular tension and knots.
Does Dry Needling Release Muscle Knots?
Dry needling can be effective (1,2) in releasing muscle knots, allowing them to contract and relax normally, reducing pain and improving range of motion (3). Experts (4, 5, 6, 7) explain that it works by inserting a thin needle directly into the affected knot (also known as a trigger point), and the practitioner then stimulates the needle. This releases tension by causing the muscle to twitch, or contract, and then relax.
Some (5) believe that this effect is in response to increased blood flow (8), letting blood back to the affected area and allowing the muscle to go back to its normal resting state. The effects could also be a result of nerve response changing how a client perceives pain, or that dry needling changes the biochemical makeup of the knot, making it less painful or irritating (5). Another explanation (7) is that dry needling triggers an immunological response, whereby the body detects the foreign object and launches an immune system response which reduces inflammation.
Does Dry Needling Work for Tight Muscles?
Like trigger points, dry needling can also work for tight muscles. Experts claim that dry needling is very effective (7) in loosening tight or tense muscles, and results in their proper function, contracting and relaxing properly. The treatment may also work for tendonitis, inflammation, and in the promotion of general healing (9).
What Happens to the Muscles During Dry Needling?
Overused, tight, or tense muscles that result in a knot, or trigger point, receive insufficient blood supply, meaning that they also do not receive the essential oxygen and nutrients that would ordinarily allow the muscle to function properly and return to its normal resting state. As such, the area around the affected knot becomes more acidic, and the nerves are sensitised, resulting in pain, discomfort, or irritation (8).
During dry needling treatment, the stimulation of the trigger point helps to restore normal blood flow to the affected area, releasing the tension, and restoring mobility. This stimulation may also have an impact on local nerve fibres, telling the brain to release pain-relieving endorphins (8). Some clients feel such effects almost immediately after one treatment, whilst for others, it may take more than one session to feel the benefits.
How Long Does it Take for Dry Needling to Take Effect?
The effects of dry needling, for some, is felt almost immediately after one treatment, but for others, it can take a few sessions to begin to feel the benefits (8). However, in order to gain lasting relief, some recommend a few sessions (7). What’s more, in order to maintain the benefits, experts state that clients should continue to exercise the affected muscles to prevent them from tensing up again(8).
It’s important to note, however, that this timeframe may differ on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the severity of the trigger point, and any other health factors that could have an impact on the results.
How Long Do the Benefits of Dry Needling Last?
Research suggests that the benefits of dry needling are typically short-term (1, 2, 10, 11) when used as a solo treatment. However, when used in conjunction with other therapeutic exercise programmes, or physiotherapy, it may offer enhanced long-term benefits (10, 11). As such, clients that heed the advice of experts (8), exercising the affected muscle post-treatment, may see longer-term benefits than those that don’t exercise the muscle.
Can Dry Needling Make Things Worse?
Whilst dry needling can cause short-term soreness to the affected areas, as well as mild bruising and bleeding, major adverse side effects are rare (12). Post-needling soreness is a common side effect of dry needling, thought to be a consequence of neuromuscular damage and haemorrhagic and inflammatory reaction (13), however, it is not thought to make conditions worse.
While this soreness is not particularly bothersome for most patients, it can be distressing to some, causing pain for up to 72 hours (13). Whilst this wouldn’t necessarily make the condition worse, it could result in clients abandoning treatment, and allowing their condition to worsen over time.
A number of experts in the field agree that dry needling can be effective in releasing trigger points, restoring blood flow, and normal function. What’s more, this treatment may also work for tendonitis, inflammation, and in the promotion of general healing. For some, these benefits may be realised after just one session, but for others, it can take multiple sessions to begin seeing results.
If you are a healthcare professional interested in offering dry needling in your clinical practice, Breeze Academy offers a number of dry needling courses across the UK, delivering the knowledge, skills, techniques, and confidence you need to expand your service offerings.
Learn more about our foundation level dry needling course online today, or get in touch with a member of our friendly team.