What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is the use of thin monofilament needles to treat musculoskeletal pain. The term “dry” means that there is no injection. The needles are typically inserted into painful areas within muscles, known as trigger points. There are two common techniques used with dry needling: pistoning and electrical stimulation. Pistoning is when the needle is moved in and out of the muscular trigger points until the muscle twitches and releases. When using electrical stimulation with dry needling, you will have repeated muscle contractions from the electrical current. While pistoning is very quick, the use of electrical stimulation with dry needling can last up to 10 minutes.
Dry needling is not acupuncture. Acupuncture is based on Eastern medicine, requires specific education and training, and is based on meridian pathways. Dry needling is performed by physicians, physical therapists, and chiropractors, and is based on different principles and clinical reasoning.
What Does Dry Needling Do?
Dry needling has a very focused and potent effect on muscles. Some of the most common effects are improved blood flow, decreased inflammatory molecules, and decreased acidity in the area. As these changes stimulate nervous system feedback, your brain’s perception of the muscle changes. This leads to pain relief from chemical and neurological perspectives.
Dry needling alone will not completely fix pain or injury. Rather, it allows the person to take advantage of reduced muscle tension and pain while working on the true cause of their issue, which may be mobility, strength, or postural limitations. Dry needling tends to speed up the rehab process as it is similar to hitting a reset button on the nervous system. Some people become pain-free within seconds to minutes after dry needling, while others may need a few sessions. This allows us to quickly progress through exercises and spend more time making positive changes.
Which Muscles Get Needled?
The majority of skeletal muscles in the body can be needled safely and effectively. At Beyond Movement PT, you will undergo a thorough assessment of your injury which includes palpation of involved musculature. We will identify any muscles that may benefit from dry needling and discuss this with you. We treat the whole person, so we do not just assess the muscles in the immediate area. For example, it is common for us to include treatments for the neck and shoulder when dealing with an elbow injury.
Who Would Benefit From Dry Needling?
In my experience, dry needling is mostly beneficial for someone experiencing muscular pain. This could be from overuse, poor mechanics, or poor flexibility. It is not a treatment used exclusively for muscular injuries, as sometimes joint issues like arthritis tend to cause muscle tone/tension around the joint and trigger points can develop.
In addition to acute injuries, dry needling can be beneficial when dealing with chronic pain. It can help via the same mechanisms described above to help reduce pain and allow someone to exercise pain-free. Also, some chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia are linked to the presence of trigger points. Dry needling can help give relief from the chronic muscular pain and allow the person to be active without experiencing pain.
Dry needling is also very effective in reducing post-surgical pain from orthopedic or other types of surgeries. There is also a ton of evidence supporting the use of dry needling for migraine headaches.
Dry needling is a useful tool because it creates an immediate reduction in pain that many other treatments, including medications, may not be able to match. It opens up a window of opportunity that, if taken advantage of with movement and exercise, can help create long-term positive changes.
If you have any questions or want to chat to see if dry needling would be appropriate for you, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corey Hall, PT, DPT