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All About Dry Needling

Odds are you’ve heard of dry needling recently. Maybe a friend or family member tried it, or you’ve heard someone on your healthcare team mention it. So now you find yourself wondering more about this technique.

Will it help you get rid of that nagging back pain or headache?

Will you be able to perform better at your next race or lifting competition?

Can it help with pelvic pain or bowel and bladder issues?

Let’s explore a little more about what dry needling is, how it works, and who can benefit from it to answer those questions and more.

Dry needling has become an increasingly popular treatment technique utilized by physical therapists to treat myofascial pain, or pain from muscular and connective tissue sources. While it may be a relatively new mainstream treatment option, dry needling, sometimes also called trigger point dry needling, has been around for over 40 years in practice and continues to grow in popularity.

So what exactly is dry needling?

Let’s break it down. Dry needling is done with a monofilament needle, or a very small, thin, needle that is solid, not hollow like the needle for a shot. It is called ‘dry’ needling because there is no injection or medication in the needle, which would be ‘wet’. While the needles may look similar to needles used in acupuncture, the actual technique of dry needling is completely different from acupuncture. The provider will find tender points along muscle, fascia, scar tissue, or other connective tissue, and insert the needle into the specific point of tenderness or restriction. In a muscle, this may cause a big jump or spasm, known as a twitch response.

While dry needling is often referred to as ‘trigger point dry needling’ due to the common use on taut bands in musculature, dry needling may also be used for other types of tissue in the body, including tendon, fascia, scar tissue, perineural tissue, and ligaments. Physical therapists will often use dry needling to address pain in a specific area, as well as referred pain from a trigger point, but may also use dry needling to improve mobility around scars or reduce pain around irritated tendons and ligaments. Dry needling can also be used with muscle stimulation, similar to a TENS unit, for getting muscles to fire for coordination or fatigue enough to relax.

Research is regularly developing around dry needling for specific conditions, however there are studies demonstrating efficacy and safety of dry needling. Conditions including patellofemoral pain syndrome, temporomandibular joint pain, upper extremity and neck pain, lower extremity myofascial pain, and headaches have all been shown in research to benefit from trigger point dry needling. As with most conditions treated in physical therapy, the best relief and improvement comes from a dynamic approach including techniques like dry needling along with manual therapy, exercise, and education.

What does dry needling feel like?

There can be a lot of different experiences with dry needling, and while it may not be the most comfortable treatment ever, it should not be exceedingly painful. Most people will experience a bit of discomfort, including cramping, aching, or pinching sensations, and may feel some large twitches or jumps in the muscles being treated. There is often some residual soreness after treatment, similar to muscle soreness after an intense workout or a bruised type feeling. Some people also may experience sympathetic nervous system responses like sweating, giddiness, nausea, or chills. These side effects usually resolve fairly quickly, but soreness can linger up to around 48-72 hours. Typically there are no restrictions or limitations to activity after dry needling, although staying hydrated and gentle movements, stretches, and light exercise are often recommended.

Relief with dry needling is fairly immediate, and we will do tests in session to see the muscle and pain response after treatment. Often only one session with dry needling is needed for initial relief, but depending on your activity level, training intensity, and movement patterns, multiple sessions provide better relief and may be utilized as maintenance in part of an exercise and recovery program.

Ready to try it?

Momentum Physiotherapy offers dry needling as a part of all in person evaluations and treatments when indicated, and offers dry needling specific appointments for established patients as well. Send us a message or give us a call if you want to learn more!


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