Dry needling has had an interesting and fascinating history. It has evolved over the years with on-going heated debates regarding the similarities and differences between acupuncture and dry needling.
Literature on the development of dry needling before the millennium was mainly done by Travell and Simons. As far as we know, Dr Janet Travell coined the term “dry needling” in the 1940s. She, together with David Simons, was the pioneers behind treating myofascial pain using trigger point therapy. With the use of hollow hypodermic needles (a normal syringe) she treated trigger points. She injected different solutions (including corticosteroids, anaesthetics, Botox, etc.) into trigger points but sometimes only used the needle to break up the trigger point without injecting anything. Hence the term “dry needling” was born. In the late 1970s Dr Karel Lewit’s research made major contributions to the technique to prove that the needle itself had an analgesic effect. He used both hypodermic and acupuncture or solid filiform needles. With this research the acupuncture and solid filiform needle was linked to the term dry needling.
Today dry needling is a popular modality of choice and it is used by physiotherapists with great effectiveness for the treatment of myofascial trigger points. A solid filiform or acupuncture needle is inserted directly into the trigger point of a skeletal muscle. The aim is to elicit a local twitch response to ultimately create an analgesic effect. This local twitch response is due to fast depolarisation of the muscle fibres of the trigger point with an impressive decrease in pain and dysfunction. Dry needling is a quicker method to treat myofascial trigger points compared to other manual techniques. Dry needling is minimal invasive, carries low risk and it is easy to master in the hand of qualified health care providers. It has been proven that dry needling does not only reduce local and referred pain but also improves range of motion, muscle activation and amends the trigger point chemically.
The ancient acupuncture technique originated 2000 years ago in China. Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of “yin” and “yang” of the life force known as “qi,” pronounced “chi.” Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces. Qi is said to flow through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridians and energy flows are accessible through 350 acupuncture points in the body. Inserting needles into these points with appropriate combinations is said to bring the energy flow back into proper balance. There is no scientific proof that the meridians or acupuncture points exist, and it is hard to prove that they either do or do not, but numerous studies suggest that acupuncture works for some conditions. Physiotherapists claiming to perform acupuncture must be registered as acupuncturists or Chinese medicine practitioners.