Dry Needling: Benefits and Impacts on the Autonomic Nervous System
A note about these writings:
One of the most frequent questions I get from students is, “How do I stay up-to-date on recent research, theory, and evidence-based practice?” Subscriptions to journals are expensive, public access articles are sometimes hard to find and time consuming and, let’s be serious, a lot of peer-reviewed research accepted to journals is really boring to read.
I personally enjoy reading research on DN, acupuncture, manipulation, and a multitude of other subjects, including quantum physics and quantum biology (more on this in later writings). I find it all fascinating. Yes, I am weird. My wife Angela tells me this daily and others have told me this my whole life. (They don’t get it, you will see!). Anyway, I wanted to provide an easy, free, and fun way for medical professionals to stay up-to-date on DN and manipulation research and theory and clinical practice, with a particular focus on the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
I believe that blogs such as this one are essential for the continuing advancement of DN and manipulation theory and practice. Unfortunately, there are few who have and are willing to spend significant money researching DN, and much of what we now know is theoretical. What is not theoretical, however, is how well DN works for the vast majority of patients.
This does not mean that these subjects are not worth the money to research, and it certainly does not mean they are not effective. On the contrary, it simply means that pharmaceutical companies cannot make money off of this and, therefore, it is simply not funded.
How Dry Needling impacts the Autonomic Nervous System:
A multitude of nervous system pathways are affected by Dry Needling (DN). With the advent of new technology, we are continuously discovering new and different positive ways DN affects the human body. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) plays a vital role in maintaining homeostasis in conjunction with a multitude of other systems. Any deviation from baseline homeostasis for a particular individual incites widespread, detrimental effects, including autoimmune disorders, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and a plethora of other impairments.
Compared to all other treatments PTs may utilize in the clinic at this point in time, DN, without question, has the strongest and most beneficial effect on the autonomic nervous system. This phenomenon has been noticed and studied in some form or another for thousands of years and, in my opinion, is the driving force behind the effectiveness of DN. Currently, Microneurography is the gold standard for ANS testing, which involves inserting solid filiform needles directly into a nerve (common peroneal is frequently used).
Remember, the ANS is largely controlled by cranial nerve X and is responsible for controlling vital functions of the human body including heart rate, blood pressure, hormone regulation, circadian rhythm, and many others. Without properly functioning, basic life sustaining processes constantly interacting throughout our bodies, normal bodily and mental function becomes impossible. Chronic impairments of the ANS often lead to systemic problems that continue to worsen over time.
The overall effect of DN on the ANS is a decrease in sympathetic and an increase in parasympathetic tone, and this is vital to understand. Our typical bodily response to an impairment, whether acute or chronic, is an elevation of the sympathetic and a depression of the parasympathetic nervous systems. Especially when chronic, this invariably leads to phenomena such as hyperalgesia, allodynia, chemical muscle shortening, abnormal hormone production and release, altered spinal and supraspinal reflexes, and lowered cellular electrical thresholds, to name a few.
There have been many studies, and a lot of really cool new ones are coming out, studying ANS fluctuations secondary to DN treatment. These include studies observing endorphin release, blood flow, brain activity changes, and more.
Another crazy thing that a group of researchers in France recently found, and this has been confirmed with other studies since, is that the alpha synuclein misfolded protein that is thought to be a primary cause of PD can originate in the intestines and travel up the Vagus nerve to the brain!
We know that DN strongly affects the ANS, and since the Vagus nerve controls a large part of the ANS, I would think, to some degree, that DN may have a potential positive effect.
This is just a short intro into the many awesome aspects of DN.
These are the unusual things I think about throughout the day. Along with where I am going to catch my next fish and when the tarpon will start swimming…. and birds, I like birds.
Cool Dry Needling Research
Gallego-Sendarrubias, G.M., Rodríguez-Sanz, D., Calvo-Lobo, C. and Martín, J.L., 2020. Efficacy of dry needling as an adjunct to manual therapy for patients with chronic mechanical neck pain: a randomised clinical trial. Acupuncture in Medicine, pp.acupmed-2018.
Hagblad, J., Lindberg, L.G., Andersson, A.K., Bergstrand, S., Lindgren, M., Ek, A.C., Folke, M. and Lindén, M., 2010. A technique based on laser Doppler flowmetry and photoplethysmography for simultaneously monitoring blood flow at different tissue depths. Medical & biological engineering & computing, 48(5), pp.415-422.