Dry Needling

Dry needling is a treatment physical therapists use for pain and movement issues often associated with myofascial trigger points. Trigger points are knotted, tender areas that develop in muscles. These trigger points are highly sensitive and can be painful when touched. Sometimes, a trigger point may be near the location of pain. But they’re also often the cause of referred pain. Referred pain is pain that affects another part of the body.

Physical therapists use very thin filiform needles to alleviate your trigger points. The needles are very thin and many patient report not feeling anything at all.  When dry needling is applied to your muscles and tissues, it can decrease tightness, increase blood flow, and reduce local and referred pain. Providers use solid needles that don’t contain any kind of medication. This is why the technique is called “dry.” Nothing is injected into your body.

With this technique, a physical therapist inserts thin filiform needles into or near trigger points. The needles stimulate the muscle, which often causes a twitch. This twitch is a stimulation of neurological structures in the muscle and quite often after the twitch the muscle will relax significantly.  Scientific research has shown that dry needling causes immediate changes in the electrical activity of the muscle as well as significant chemical changes in the muscle.

Dry needling techniques are used to treat musculoskeletal pain and movement issues. They are also often used to stimulate nerves at the spinal cord level and can dramatically improve nerve conduction to muscles.  Dry needling is almost always used as part of a larger pain management plan that will include exercise, stretching, soft tissue mobilization and other techniques. 

Adverse events are very rare with dry needling.  There has been significant research on this topic to ensure its safety.  Statistically, the odds of having adverse side effects from over the counter ibuprofen are much higher than dry needling.  However, as with any treatment there are possible risks.  The most common issues with dry needling are:  soreness after treatment, possibility of bruising and bleeding.  More series issues (but extremely rare) could be a punctured lung or infection.

Your physical therapist will always discuss these risks and treatment options with you before initiating any kind of treatment like dry needling.  But, when used for appropriate conditions, dry needing can have an immediate and dramatic effect on your recovery and could be an integral part of your overall treatment plan.

Did You Know?

  • Dry needling techniques are extremely safe and the risks of having any kind of a problem are far less than over the counter ibuprofen.
  • Dry needling can often cause an immediate and drastic change in pain symptoms.
  • Dry needling has been shown to be extremely effective in many patients who have headaches.
  • Dry needling should not be done on pregnant women or anyone who has a contagious blood disease.

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