What is Dry Needling? Is that like acupuncture?
Updated: Sep 5, 2018
Dry needling is a manual therapy technique often utilized by Physical Therapists. It is not acupuncture, however, we do use small, fine filament acupuncture needles. It is called "dry needling" because we are not injecting any medication with the needles. These needles are inserted through the skin and into muscles that are determined to have restrictions, or in homeostatic points, based on the assessment completed by your Physical Therapist.
What is a muscular trigger point?
A trigger point, or what is commonly called a “muscle knot”, is a tight band of muscle that can be painful at all times (active trigger point) or just when pressure is applied to it (latent trigger point). These trigger points are often caused by the muscle contracting to guard following an injury. Once the trigger point is formed, the muscle stays tight and scar tissue begins to form. When trigger points are present in a muscle, besides often being painful, they can also restrict muscle performance due to the muscle being in a shortened position.
How does dry needling address these trigger points?
When the needle is inserted into the trigger point, it causes microtrauma to the tissues and activates a healing process, increasing blood flow to the area, and sometimes causes a local twitch response in the muscle. This healing response and increased blood flow allows the muscle fibers to relax and returns the muscle to a more natural length. Addressing these trigger points can decrease pain, increase mobility and range of motion, and improve muscular performance.
Addressing homeostatic points can also be beneficial to patients. By inserting the needle into a homeostatic point, the same response to the tissue occurs. This promotes restoration of both local and systemic homeostasis, which reduces physical (biomechanical) and psychological (inflammation, tissue ischemia) stress that comes with exercise and training. The insertion of the needle creates therapeutic effects in both cases through biological healing and repair.
What does dry needling feel like/Is it painful?
Dry needling feels like... well, dry needling. Most patients do not feel that dry needling is painful, but at times if we address a very painful trigger point, it can be quite uncomfortable. Often times there is a local twitch response in the muscle. Patients can also experience sweating and other sympathetic responses. This is all normal. We encourage individuals to use heat to address post-needling soreness, drink plenty of water, and stretch following dry needling. Any soreness caused by dry needling typically resolves within 48 hours.
Is dry needling just for pain/injuries?
Although dry needling can be beneficial to address pain and injuries as an adjunct to other Physical Therapy treatments, it can also be beneficial for individuals who do not have pain but experience muscle tightness or range of motion restrictions, or want to improve muscular performance.
I want to try Dry Needling! How do I sign up?
Prior to initiating dry needling, we recommend completing a Physical Therapy evaluation. This will help your Physical Therapist to screen for any contraindications or precautions prior to initiating the treatment to make sure it is safe. It also allows your Physical Therapist to determine the appropriate areas to dry needle to best help you reach your goals. Additionally, dry needling is a treatment that is best combined with other therapeutic interventions that your Physical Therapist determines could be helpful based on their assessment.