What Is Dry Needling, and Is It Right For Me?

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:

-Decreased pain

-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).