As part of the requirements to maintain registration with Australian Association of Massage Therapists, I am required to maintain a certain number of CPE (Continuing Professional Education) points. These can be gained from attending conferences, volunteer work, mentoring or further courses of study.
There are a few modalities of treatment that I would like to add to my repertoire and one of them happens to be dry needling. I was lucky enough to find a course that was local, fitted within my time frame and affordable. The course I did is only available to practicing therapists. Indeed, most of the people doing the course were qualified osteopaths.
So, the level of knowledge in the room was pretty high. There were times that I felt a little out of my depth in terms of my knowledge of anatomy, but it wasn’t far away. Back in my uni days, I worked as a student demonstrator teaching functional anatomy and also biomechanics. All the knowledge I was looking for is stuck somewhere in my head, but I certainly can’t recall it as easily as 15 years ago when I was finishing my degree. It was a case of realizing how much I used to know, how much I’d like to know and surprisingly, how much I still do know.
Dry needling is very similar to acupuncture, but it is applied from a Western perspective of anatomy. If you’ve ever had a solid massage, you would probably have felt tender points, that when pressed refer pain to other parts of the body. Therapists consider these to be Trigger Points, and dry needling attempts to deactivate these. These points often occur in similar places in different people and also seem to correlate to traditional acupuncture points as well. Dry needling also aims to stimulate the bodies repair mechanisms, and to stimulate pain relief.
In the introduction the presenter was talking about a vasovagal response. This is often a stress reaction triggered by different stimuli, and for some this may include dry needling. The reaction includes a drop in blood pressure, elevated heart rate, paleness, sweating, nausea usually ending in fainting or loss of consciousness. In many ways, similar to those poor kids made to stand for an hour in the quadrangle listening to boring assemblies that suddenly faint.
Lucky for us, we got to see this in action. The very first demonstration the presenter undertook, old mate had a pretty solid vasovagal response. A couple of quick breaths while he tried to hold it together, a few heavy head nods and he was gone, out like a light. It’s good to see it in a controlled environment, and if you’re aware of it being a possibility, you can see it happening. The presenter kept his cool, removed the needles he’d applied and lowered old mate to the floor as he lost consciousness. Not much you can do for them, just roll them into the recovery position, keep them calm when they come to, get them some water and keep them still until they start to feel a little alive again. I don’t think that bloke will be adding dry needling to his skill set.
The photo above has some pretty classic points used for the relief of shin splints. I did laugh when I rolled up my strides and some of the participants saw my tan lines. “Are you a cyclist?”, yep, couldn’t deny that one, they had me there.
Over the weekend I had the equivalent of about 9 treatments as we practised on each other during the course. This is a fairly solid experience to put your body through. Combined with the brain loading of learning new skills, I certainly slept well.
Like all tools, it’s good to know how to use them and just as importantly when to use them. I think that dry needling really suits the way I look at treatments and will become an important part of my massage work. Not for everyone, but at the right times, you can achieve some pretty remarkable outcomes.