What is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling

What is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a skilled intervention used by a healthcare professional to treat pain and restore function. Dry needling is used to directly target trigger points (tight bands in a muscle fiber) and activate your body’s natural ability to heal. It has been shown in the literature to decrease pain and reduce tissue tension by normalizing dysfunctional motor end plates (the structure responsible for turning your muscle on/off).  


Is it different than acupuncture?

Although dry needling and acupuncture use similar tools, the two are not the same and are performed by different practitioners with different training.  Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine working with energy and meridians while dry needling is based on Western medicine focusing directly on the muscles and fascia causing your pain.


What conditions can dry needling be helpful for?

Most musculoskeletal and neuromuscular issues, either acute or chronic, can utilize dry needling. Some common conditions treated include tennis and golfers’ elbow, frozen shoulder, rotator cuff tears, neck pain, headaches, jaw pain, low back pain, sciatica and hip pain, knee osteoarthritis, “jumpers knee”, plantar fasciitis, and more!


How is it performed?

First, your skin is cleaned with alcohol to remove oils and lotions, second, the therapist uses a filiform needle (without medication or injection) to penetrate directly into underlying myofascial and neuromuscular tissues and stimulate a healing response. Depending on the location, the needle may be left in for a few minutes but most often it is inserted and taken out directly. Dry needling can take as little as two minutes from start to finish for small areas such as an elbow.


Does my insurance cover it?

Yes! There are no additional costs to you by adding dry needling to your care, it is billed similarly to other therapy treatments. Physical therapists use dry needling as an instrument-assisted complement to other manual modalities as well as the use of exercise to optimize results as part of their skilled treatment plan.


Is it safe/does it hurt?

Whenever the term “needle” gets thrown around, it is normal to feel anxious. Rest assured; this is a minimally invasive modality with often minimal discomfort. The risks are minimized by ensuring you are in the hands of a skilled provider who has undergone a certified dry needling program. The most common adverse effects include minimal and controlled bruising and tenderness to the area after a session. Rare but more serious side effects can include pneumothorax however this is a minimal risk with a skilled therapist. Please do let your therapist know if you have any medical conditions such as blood born illness (Hepatitis, HIV, etc.), metal allergies, if you are on blood thinners, or have active cancer. 


Additional Information/Reading:

  1. Dommerholt J. Dry needling – peripheral and central considerations. J Man Manip Ther. 2011 Nov;19(4):223-7. doi: 10.1179/106698111X13129729552065. PMID: 23115475; PMCID: PMC3201653.
  2. Griswold D, Wilhelm M, Donaldson M, Learman K, Cleland J. The effectiveness of superficial versus deep dry needling or acupuncture for reducing pain and disability in individuals with spine-related painful conditions: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Man Manip Ther. 2019 Jul;27(3):128-140. doi: 10.1080/10669817.2019.1589030. Epub 2019 Mar 19. PMID: 30935320; PMCID: PMC6598484.

Written by Megan Kressbach

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