Dry Needling: What You Should Know

Have you heard of dry needling? It is one of the hottest topics in physical therapy practice right now! It is trending on social media, the news, in physical therapy clinical advertisements, and is now offered at Holy Family Memorial!

As a physical therapist who has been practicing dry needling for three years, I believe it is an effective and powerful treatment technique when used as PART of physical therapy practice. Of course, the results are more life changing when dry needling is guided by a comprehensive physical therapy examination, and is used in combination with custom therapeutic exercises and other manual techniques. It has helped many of my patients reduce pain and work towards an overall healthier life!

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a treatment technique in which a thin solid needle (filiform needle) is inserted into a trigger-point, or a “knot” in the muscle. This action releases the trigger-point or “knot” and can help reduce pain and improve muscle function.

Let’s talk more about the trigger-point!

So, the trigger-point is a hyperirritable spot in the muscle, like a small cramp or contraction, that causes pain and can refer to other areas in the body. For example, a trigger-point in the neck can cause tension headaches and can cause pain to refer into the shoulder or arm. This is commonly seen in people who work on the computer throughout the day or have jobs that require repetitive lifting or static postures.

Research shows that at the trigger-point blood flow is restricted, the pH in the muscle is lowered, dysfunctional signaling at the neuromuscular junction occurs, and there is constant electrical activity present (spasming of only some muscle fibers). Basically, all these changes cause your nerves to be more sensitive and can cause you pain! The good news is…dry needling can help to change the trigger-point, decrease muscular dysfunction, and reduce pain!

Who can benefit from dry needling?

The answer is…anyone who has muscular pain or muscular dysfunction stemming from a trigger-point. I have successfully used dry needling to help people with the following diagnoses/conditions:

  • Chronic pain syndromes
  • Tension headaches
  • Sciatica
  • General low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Tennis elbow
  • Golfer’s elbow
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Sports related injuries
  • Muscular strains
  • And many more…

Is it the same as acupuncture?

No! Although the needles used in dry needling and acupuncture are the same, the treatment philosophy is very different (think Eastern versus Western medical philosophies). Acupuncture is based on the philosophies of ancient Chinese medicine and the focus is to restore or improve the energy flow throughout the body. Whereas dry needling is guided by the findings from a physical therapy examination and aims to reduce trigger-points and movement pattern dysfunctions. Again, the biggest similarity is the needle, otherwise they are very different practices.

Take home message

Dry needling is an effective treatment technique for decreasing muscular pain and dysfunction caused by trigger-points in the body. It should be used as PART of the physical therapy treatment and should only be performed following a comprehensive examination. Don’t settle for living with pain! Talk to your physical therapist to see if dry needling may be appropriate for you! It may help you reduce pain and live your best life now!

About the author.

Darren Nelson, DPT, is a physical therapist with HFM Rehab Plus. To find out if dry needling is an option for your rehabilitation treatment, call (920) 320-3100 for a consultation.