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The Body Refinery’s physiotherapists use a variety of manual therapy techniques to treat patients, including Dry Needling.

We’re often asked what the difference is between Dry Needling and Acupuncture. Although the same type of needles are used, they are two very different treatments.

Dry Needling

The origins of Dry Needling date back to the 1930’s. Dr John Kellgren, a British rheumatologist, discovered that manual pressure over specific tender areas in muscle tissue (trigger points) could produce pain in a different muscle to where the pressure was applied, in a distinct referral pattern. He also found that injecting a small amount of local anaesthetic into these points relieved the referred pain.

In the late 1930’s Dr Janet Travell, a cardiologist from the USA showed interest in the earlier work of Kellgren. She found that inserting the needle alone, without injecting the local anaesthetic, could also relieve the referred pain from trigger points in muscles. Hence the term “Dry Needling”.

Dry Needling is focused on treating a single tissue. It is a short-term needling to altered or dysfunctional tissues in order to improve or restore function. Very fine, sterile, single-use “needles” are inserted into trigger points or taught bands of muscle tissue that are palpated by the practitioner. Physiotherapists are trained extensively in manual palpation skills, which are used in conjunction with a full physical assessment and case history analysis.

The effects of Dry Needling include pain relief by stimulating the release of endorphins and serum cortisol and de-activating the trigger points in taught bands of muscle fibres. The needles also cause minor localised bleeding (within the muscle), which increases the blood flow to the area and promotes tissue healing by stimulating collagen and protein formation. These effects are often seen immediately after removal of the needles. In order to practice dry needling, your physiotherapist will have completed an accredited dry needling course. It is an effective tool that can be integrated into treatment and rehabilitation, and many patients find that this integration provides faster results.

Will it hurt? You will feel a small pinprick, and depending on the type of needle technique chosen by your physiotherapist you may also feel a deep, dull muscle ache, or even a small muscle twitch. These are all normal sensations and are an indication that you will experience good relief from your symptoms.

dry needling


Acupuncture forms part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is thought to have originated over 5,000 years ago.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that Acupuncture may be used to treat over forty different medical conditions including allergies, respiratory disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, gynaecological problems, nervous conditions, disorders of the eyes, nose and throat, and childhood illnesses, amongst others. It is also used in the treatment of pain and headaches.

According to Acupuncture theory, chi circulates in the body along twelve major channels, called meridians, each linked to specific internal organs and organ systems. By inserting needles at specific points (acupoints) along the meridians, it is believed that the acupuncturist can redirect and reposition the flow of energy (chi) for the purpose of relieving stress, tension, and pain. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners believe that the uninterrupted and balanced flow of energy along these meridians contributes to one’s overall health, and that blockages and imbalances result in pain and illness. There are 361 primary acupoints distributed along the meridians throughout the human body. The needles are generally left in situ for a much greater period than in Dry Needling.

Acupuncturists use a variety of different examination skills that are specific to Traditional Chinese Medicine such as pulse & tongue examination. Therefore, Acupuncture, like Dry Needling, achieves pain relief through the release of endorphins and has an anti-inflammatory effect by stimulating the release of serum cortisol. But it is also thought to restore health and create balance in the body’s energy (chi) levels.

Acupuncture is based on treating general health conditions which are not within the scope of practice of many of the therapists who practice Dry Needling. Therapists who practice Dry Needling cannot call themselves Acupuncturists, and vice versa.

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Next time you book your physiotherapy appointment in our New Farm studio, ask our physiotherapists to tell you about the benefits of Dry Needling.

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