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Acupuncture, Physiotherapy and Dry Needling

acupuncture needles and flowerFirst of all, let’s get the obvious problem out of the way. There are physiotherapists that use acupuncture needles in the course of their treatments. This does not make them acupuncturists. Physiotherapy and acupuncture have separate licensing boards in Alberta with specific requirements for each profession. It is possible for a physiotherapist to also be an acupuncturist, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

So what is a physiotherapist doing using needles in their profession? I thought all therapists pushed on sore spots, stretched you out till you couldn’t go any further then made you exercise until you felt like you had been run over. Well, it turns out, acupuncture needles offer physiotherapists an option to get below the surface of the skin and affecting injured tissues directly. Acupuncture needles can produce changes in the nerves, muscles, connective tissue and even hormones or circulation. These changes are beneficial for assisting tissues to heal and restore the client to normal functioning.

Within the acupuncture techniques, it was noticed that placing a needle directly into a knotted muscle caused the muscle to twitch or jump and then rapid relaxation occurred. The cause of this phenomenon is not yet fully understood however the principle is fairly consistent. By placing needles into an irritated muscle, the body receives the stimulation and creates its own painkillers (endorphins) to help relax the affected area. The twitching of the muscles seems to be a response from the needle stimulation which forces the local tissues to relax. These tightened muscle have been known to cause a multitude of symptoms including; pain, restricted motion, pain referral into other regions, dizziness, weakness and nausea. Getting the tissue to relax and perform normally is the goal of this technique.

What Should You Expect?

So, what should you expect if you decide to get dry needling done? Let’s not beat around the bush here, it can hurt. Initially the therapist will do an assessment and hopefully explain what they plan to do as well as the reasons why. Assuming you consent to the procedure, they will start by placing needle(s) in the appropriate locations. The needle is rapidly moved after being placed and the irritated tissues will be stimulated. Depending on the practitioner, the treatment could be over in as little as a few seconds to a few minutes. If you need a break during treatment, just tell your therapist, they will understand given that they have had this done to them when they were training. After treatment is done it is a good idea to take a break and let things rest for about an hour, no coffee or cigarettes either. Typical things that happen after dry needling are localized pain after the treatment, bruising and bleeding. These are fairly common and usually resolve quickly.

So how can you prepare for your dry needling treatment? Surprisingly, have a light meal before you arrive. If you are hungry, your blood sugars are a little lower and the needling stimulus can cause nausea or passing out. Don’t show up to your dry needling appointment just after doing a big workout at the gym. We are trying to relax the muscles, so show up well rested. Let the therapist know if you have any concerns about getting needled, if you have fainted in the past or if you are on any blood thinners or pain medication.

So, hopefully this write up has given you a little more information in regards to needling use in physiotherapy. If you would like to give medical acupuncture or dry needling a try, give us a call at the Mayfield Clinic.

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