Dry needling therapy has been a popular treatment method for muscle pain and other impairments among people suffering from chronic pain and fitness enthusiasts. In fact, even Olympic-level athletes use this therapy to optimize their muscle performance and feel better during their training.
Although many have experienced significant benefits from dry needling, sticking a few needles into your body can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time. That’s why this article will discuss everything you need to know about dry needling and determine if it is the right treatment.
What is Dry Needling Physical Therapy?
Dry needling is a specialized treatment modality used to alleviate musculoskeletal pain and improve physical function. It involves using fine, sterile needles into the skin and underlying soft tissues to promote the healing and repair of injured tissues.
How dry needling works?
Dry needling therapy is based on the principle of trigger point therapy. A trigger point is a tight “knot” of muscle tissues that can cause pain and is usually sensitive to pressure. Researchers believe that previous injuries and accumulation of lactic acid from repetitive motions and poor posture can cause trigger points and tightness of the muscles.
Inserting a needle into the trigger point or tight muscles can elicit a twitch response, which can change muscle tension and the length of the trigger point, leading to muscle relaxation.
Dry needling can also cause the dilation of small blood vessels leading to improved blood circulation and oxygen delivery to the muscles. This increased blood flow helps remove waste products from the muscle fibers and promotes healing.
Needle insertion can also affect the nervous system, which allows us to alter our perception of pain. In addition, dry needling can also stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killer chemicals, leading to further improvement in pain and an increase in overall function.
Is dry needling different from acupuncture?
Both dry needling and acupuncture use needles and may seem similar at first glance. However, they differ in principles, techniques, and treatment application.
Dry needling is usually done as part of a broader physical therapy program that deals with muscle tissues alongside therapeutic exercises and other manual therapy.
Dry needling is based on Western medicine and human anatomy and physiology. It is a modern technique used by physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals that undergone rigorous training to deliver effective and evidence-based treatment for pain and other medical conditions.
Another benefit of dry needling physical therapy is its minimal risk of side effects. The needles used in this treatment are sterile and disposable, and the procedure is performed in a safe, controlled environment.
What are the Benefits of Dry Needling?
Whether you are a competitive athlete or someone who wants to get rid of pain and optimize health, you can expect the following benefits from dry needling:
Treatment for various conditions
Dry needling physical therapy has been found to be an effective treatment for a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions, including:
- Chronic and acute pain
- Neck and back pain
- Migraines and headaches
- Tennis elbow and other overuse injuries
- Plantar fasciitis
- Knee pain
Fast pain relief
Typically, you’ll gradually experience pain relief as the “knots” relaxes and get better blood circulation. This means that your muscles will receive more oxygen and can remove acidic waste products properly.
Dry needling can also briefly change your pain sensation, which can bring massive relief if you are experiencing chronic pain that lasts for a couple of months or even years.
Improve range of motion
Tight or painful muscles can limit your joint’s range of motion, making your movements stiff and awkward. In addition, past injuries and lack of proper exercise can also alter your mobility and may increase your risk for injuries such as pulled muscles or tears.
Dry needling and other physical therapy interventions can restore your flexibility and rebuild your muscle strength to ensure that your joints and muscles are working the way they should.
Promote healing and fast recovery
Inserting fine needles on trigger points can stimulate a mild inflammatory response in your cells and promote the natural healing process of your body. In addition, dry needling can bring down the swelling in injured soft tissue areas, thereby creating a better environment for repair and recovery.
Reduce muscle tension and spasm
Muscle tension and spasm can be problematic in high-stress environments, such as school or the workplace, where you may sit in the same position for long periods. In addition, muscle tension can be a vicious cycle, as the discomfort and pain it causes can lead to increased stress, which can further increase muscle tension.
Tightness or hardening of your muscles, particularly in the shoulders and neck, can place pressure on your nerve roots and blood supply, which may lead to pain, tingling sensation, headache, and weakness. Dry needling allows the relaxation of the contracted muscles and releases these tensions.
What to expect during dry needling physical therapy?
- Your treatment will begin with a detailed assessment with your DPT. They will take your medical history and find the root cause of your musculoskeletal problem.
- Your physio will then thoroughly explain the procedure, including what to feel and expect. Discuss questions with your therapist and let them know if you understand the process.
- They will use sterile thin needles to ensure your safety during the procedure.
- You may feel a muscle twitch or spasm as the needle is inserted into the muscle. This is a normal response and can indicate that the needle has reached the desired location.
- Your DPT may insert multiple needles into different points in the affected muscle to address your specific needs and conditions.
- The needles may be left in place for a few minutes to allow the therapeutic effects to take place.
- Your physiotherapist will remove the needles after the appropriate amount of time has passed.
- Your physiotherapist may provide post-treatment care instructions, such as icing the affected area or taking over-the-counter pain medication if necessary.
Is dry needling for you?
Dry needling can be a useful treatment option for those who suffer from muscle pain and injuries. It can also be effective for those who are looking to optimize their athletic performance, improve their posture and increase range of motion.
However, dry needling is not for everyone, and it is crucial to be assessed by a qualified DPT or healthcare professional before undergoing any treatment involving this technique.
The main contraindication for this treatment is if you have a fear of needles or if you are unwilling to perform this therapy technique.
Is dry needling painful?
Dry needling is a safe technique when done by a qualified professional and it is often regarded as “painless” treatment. The actual process of inserting the needle to the muscles is painless since it uses very thin needles and produces minimal damage to the skin and other soft tissues.
After the treatment, it is normal to feel a little bit sore on the treated area for a couple of days. It is similar to the soreness you feel after workingout in the gym.
Dry needling physical therapy is a highly effective, minimally invasive treatment option for individuals suffering from musculoskeletal pain and restricted movement. It is based on modern western medical principles and used by qualified healthcare specialists.
If you are suffering from chronic pain or want to optimize muscle performance, speak to your physiotherapist about dry needling therapy.
- Gattie, E., Cleland, J. A., & Snodgrass, S. (2017). The Effectiveness of Trigger Point Dry Needling for Musculoskeletal Conditions by Physical Therapists: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 47(3), 133–149. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2017.7096
- Cagnie, B., Dewitte, V., Barbe, T., Timmermans, F., Delrue, N., & Meeus, M. (2013). Physiologic effects of dry needling. Current pain and headache reports, 17(8), 348. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11916-013-0348-5
- Rodine R. (2015). Trigger Point Dry Needling: An Evidenced and Clinical-Based Approach. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 59(1), 84.