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Dry needling is a technique used to treat calcific tendonitis to break the calcium up that forms in tendons.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is used for patients with calcific tendonitis to break the calcium up. It is carried out by a consultant radiologist using ultrasound to guide the needle into the calcium.

What happens during dry needling?

An ultrasound scan of the shoulder tendons is conducted to confirm where and how much calcium is present in the tendons. Steroid and local anaesthetic is injected into the lining above the shoulder tendons – the ‘bursa’. The local anaesthetic helps to take the pain away as the procedure is performed while you are awake. The steroid acts as an anti-inflammatory and usually works within a week to reduce pain and inflammation.

More local anaesthetic is injected into and around the lump of calcium in the tendon to numb the area. The calcium is ‘dry needled’ for one or two minutes, breaking it into small pieces.

The procedure typically takes around 20 minutes.

Recovery from dry needling

Following the dry needling procedure, the calcium will begin to disappear. This is called the ‘resorptive phase’. The resorptive phase can be painful and last several months. It is important to keep the shoulder moving during this period, therefore a physiotherapy session two weeks following the procedure is useful.

What are the side effects of dry needling?

Steroid can cause irritation following injection, creating the so-called ‘flare response’. With any injection into a joint there is a risk of infection. This risk is greatly minimised however, as the injection is done under ‘sterile’ conditions.

Some of the steroid will travel around the body to other tissues and makes insulin work less well for this short period of time. Patients with diabetes must monitor their sugar levels for up to two weeks after the injection.

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