Dry Needling 101

In a recent chronic pain survey, over 50 million Americans reported they were in pain most or all of the time. In the age of the Opioid Epidemic, chronic pain sufferers and their physicians are turning away from drugs and finding alternate solutions. Physical therapy and massage are now the most common pain management strategies. One potential solution physical therapists use is dry needling. 

What Is Dry Needling? 

Dry needling is a procedure performed by a physical therapist who is certified in the practice. They use tiny micro-needles to penetrate the skin in specific areas to reduce pain in trigger points. The needles don't inject anything nor do they remove fluids, which is why it is called dry needling. 

What Are Trigger Points? 

Trigger points are areas of hard or knotted muscles. These tight bands of muscles can cause pain as well as restrict range of motion, making movement of the area difficult and painful. When the physical therapist inserts dry needles into specific trigger points in the body, it can alleviate local pain as well as pain referred to another area and increase blood flow and range of motion.

Is Dry Needling Acupuncture? 

No. While the two techniques may sound or look similar, they are quite different. Acupuncture is an ancient Eastern medicine technique that uses thin needles to stimulate the nerves in muscles just below the skin. The goal is to open the patient's chi, or energy flow, which may release natural endorphins and thus provide relief from pain or other ailments, such as nausea or depression. 

Dry needling is a comparatively new Western medicine technique. The physical therapist places the needles in specific areas to stimulate irritable and tight muscles and alleviate musculoskeletal pain. 

They may place the needles directly over the area of concern or insert them into non-trigger point areas, using their knowledge of the central nervous system to obtain targeted relief for the patient.  Dry needling is rarely a stand-alone therapy. It is often combined with stretching exercises or massage therapy. 

Does Dry Needling Hurt?

No. The needles are so tiny that many people don't even feel their insertion, especially when the area is already inflamed from stress, illness, or injury. Others feel a brief "pins and needles" sensation, but the body doesn't recognize it as painful. 

What Are the Side Effects Of Dry Needling? 

Occasionally, the patient may experience mild irritation or minute bleeding at the injection site, but serious side effects are rare.

For more information on physical therapy treatment, contact a professional near you.