Dry Needling is a not the same as acupuncture, although there are similarities between the two techniques. The main difference between Dry Needling and acupuncture is the theory behind why the techniques work. Dry Needling is primarily focused on the reduction of pain and restoration of function through the release of myofascial trigger points in muscle. In comparison, acupuncture focuses on the treatment of medical conditions by restoring the flow of energy (Qi) through key points in the body (meridians) to restore balance. Dry needling is a treatment technique whereby a sterile, single-use, fine filament needle (acupuncture needle) is inserted into the muscle to assist with decreasing painand improving function through the release of myofascial trigger points.
A myofascial trigger point, also known as a knot in the muscle, is a group of muscle fibres which have shortened when activated but have not been able to lengthen back to a relaxed state after use. A myofascial trigger point is characterised by the development of a sensitive nodule in the muscle (Simons, Travell & Simons, 1999). This occurs as the muscle fibres become so tight that they compress the capillaries and nerves that supply them (McPartland, 2004; Simons, et al., 1999). As a result, the muscle is unable to move normally, obtain a fresh blood supply containing oxygen and nutrients, or flush out additional acidic chemicals (McPartland, 2004; Simons, et al., 1999). In addition to this nodule, the remainder of the muscle also tightens to compensate (Simons, et al., 1999; Simons, 2002). The presence of a myofascial trigger point in a muscle can lead to discomfort with touch, movement and stretching; to decreased movement at a joint; and even a temporary loss of coordination (Simons, et al., 1999).