Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Dry needling is a technique used by physical therapists who have specialty training in this area of practice. It involves the insertion of thin filament needles into soft tissue structures of the body, such as muscle, fascia, tendons, ligaments or near nerves in order to stimulate a healing response in painful musculoskeletal conditions. This acts to restore the soft tissue to its optimal condition for proper function. This technique can be performed either with or without the use of electric stimulation, depending upon the condition and purposes of treatment. Below, we share a Q&A of the most frequently asked dry needling questions:
What are the benefits of dry needling?
The benefits of dry needling can include:
-Improved blood flow
-Improved nervous system function
-Reduced muscle tension
-Improved joint mobility
-Elimination of trigger points or painful muscle knots
-Restored muscle strength
Why is it called "dry" needling?
The "dry" in the terminology refers to the fact that there is no liquid, or medication housed within the needles.
How is dry needling performed?
There are several different techniques which can be utilized depending upon the condition and the goals of treatment. First, the needle can be inserted for a short period of time in a swift, back and forth manner in order to relieve an overactive or shortened muscle (such as a painful muscle knot). This will typically stimulate a 'twitch' response, and will diminish after a few seconds as the muscle is restored to its healthy resting state. During this technique, it will be normal to feel a slightly discomforting, muscle cramp like sensation, which should cease after the needle is removed.
Secondly, the needled can be inserted and left within the soft tissues between 10-20 minutes and paired with electric stimulation. The combination of dry needling with electro-stimulation prolongs the pain relief effect by blocking nerve pathways and preventing pain signals from traveling to the brain. Electro-dry needling has also shown to be effective for chronic tendinopathies by stimulating blood flow to the region and disrupting the chronic degenerative process in conditions such as golfer's and tennis elbow, among others (1,2).
What types of conditions are typically treated with dry needling?
Dry needling has been proven effective in treating a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, including but not limited to:
-Acute/Chronic injuries -Headaches
-Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Is dry needling painful?
Because the size of the needle is quite thin, about 0.30 mm in diameter, you may feel little to no discomfort at all. However, depending upon the body region and soft tissue structures that are targeted, a mild amount of discomfort is normal, and usually feels like a pin prick or a tiny bee sting. If the muscle is shortened or sensitive, it may produce a twitch response, which may feel more like a muscle cramp, and should diminish after a few seconds.
How does dry needling differ from accupuncture?
Those who perform dry needling and acupuncture use similar tools: thin filament needles. However, the way the tool is used, and the philosophy behind the treatment is where the two differ.
The objectives and philosophy behind dry needling is based are the Western medicine principles of human anatomy and neurophysiology. Its effects have been supported by research for the treatment of pain and dysfunction in musculoskeletal conditions (3). The needle is inserted as deep as necessary to access the appropriate anatomical structure being treated.
This is in contrast to the philosophy of acupuncture, which is based on the Eastern medicine principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This practice involves insertion of the needles in order to alter the flow of chi energy (or 'qi') along meridian pathways for the treatment of various conditions and diseases. The location of needle insertion may include the face, hands, feet, behind the ear, or other parts of the body deemed to have a blockage of qi energy.
How do I get started if I am interested in dry needling?
If you'd like to learn more or discuss your options in person, give us a call at (702) 277-0193 or book a free discovery consultation with us here.
(1) Krey D, Borchers J, McCamey K. Tendon needling for treatment of tendinopathy: A systematic review. Phys Sportsmed. 2015 Feb;43(1):80-6
(2) Saylor-Pavkovich E., et al. Strength Exercises Combined with Dry Needling with Electric Simulation Improve Pain and Function in Patients with Chronic Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy: A Retroscpective Case Series. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Jun;11(3):409-22
(3) Leonid Kalichman, Simon Vulfsons Dry Needling in the Management of Musculoskeletal Pain The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine Sep 2010, 23 (5) 640-646