Dry needling is a technique used to treat pain and movement impairments. The chiropractor/MD/PT inserts a “dry” needle, one without medication or injection, into areas of the muscle.
Dry needling is not acupuncture, which is based on traditional Chinese medicine performed by acupuncturists. Dry needling is a part of modern Western medicine and is supported by research.
What Is a Trigger Point?
Muscles sometimes develop knotted areas called trigger points. These trigger points are highly sensitive and can be painful when touched. They are also often the cause of referred pain (or pain that affects another part of the body). Clinicians push thin solid needles through the skin into trigger points. The needles are used to stimulate the tissue, not to inject medication.
Pain affects how your body moves. It is thought that dry needling changes the way the brain and muscles talk to each other to let the system return to a more normal movement pattern.
What Kind of Needles Are Used?
Dry needling involves a thin filiform needle (acupuncture needle). The needle penetrates the skin and stimulates underlying myofascial trigger points and muscular and connective tissues. The needle allows a physical therapist to target tissues they are not able to reach with their hands.
Why Dry Needling?
Dry needling can release or inactivate trigger points to relieve pain or improve range of motion. Research suggests that dry needling improves pain control and reduces muscle tension and pain. A healthy muscle feels very little discomfort with the insertion of the needle, while a shortened or sensitive muscle that has an active trigger point within it, will have a muscle cramp sensation, or a reproduction of the patient’s pain, when the needle is inserted into the muscle.
What kinds of pain does dry needling treat?
Dry needling is almost always used as a part of an overall plan that will likely include some type of exercise, manual therapy, heat therapy, and education. Dry needling is used to increase range of motion that may be limited due to muscle tightness or scar tissue. Dry needling may also treat:
- Joint problems
- Disk problems
- Migraine and tension-type headaches
- Jaw and mouth problems (such as temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD)
- Repetitive motion disorders (like carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Spinal problems
- Pelvic pain
- Night cramps
- Phantom pain
- Post-herpetic neuralgia (pain left behind by shingles)