What is Dry Needling?
The dry needling technique is a form of treatment used by qualified physical therapists (PTs). They use the dry needle technique to assist with managing symptoms in areas of pain and malfunction. A few examples include, plantar fasciitis, knee osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, and much more.
“Dry” needling, meaning there is no medication or injection, is gently inserted into fascia, muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments to alleviate pain, tension, muscle spasms, and more. Dry needling is typically used in conjunction with other types physical therapy treatments such as exercises, manual therapy, etc. In some cases, dry needling may be used as a standalone treatment.
Although dry needling uses acupuncture needles, it is not acupuncture. Dry needling does not use the Eastern medicine philosophies, but instead the PT uses his/her in-depth knowledge of the human anatomy to insert the needles into trigger points to elicit a desirable treatment response like reduced pain, swelling, spasms, etc.
For the most part, there is little risk with the dry needling technique when used by a trained PT. There are a few circumstances where contraindication may exist including of you are pregnant, have post-surgical lymphedema, or if you have a fear of needles.
Electrical stimulation (e-stim) is sometimes used with dry needling. In these cases, the contraindication is related to the e-stim. For example, someone who has a pacemaker or if there is an infection in the area, these are risk factors where e-stim should not be used.
What to expect from Dry Needling
Your PT will determine if dry needling is right for you. Typically, several needles are inserted in or nearby the area of pain, muscle knots, swelling, and/or trigger points. The dry needling technique itself is painless. The clinician gently inserts several needles into the affected area. There is some slight manipulation of the needling (e.g. twisting) when inserted. Some report they have a little sensation with the insertion of the needles while others report little to no sensation.
On occasion, dry needling can be performed with electrical stimulation. Again, your PT would advise you of the proper treatment, walk you through the expectations, as well as he or she will review the precautions and risks with you.
Some people report little to no symptoms or side effects from this technique while others report mild discomfort. Typically, if symptoms are felt they may occur the next day where the area may be tender or sore.
If you are experiencing pain or significant discomfort from this treatment, please inform your PT immediately.
Is Dry Needling Right for You?
If you are suffering from persistent pain, muscle tension, muscles spams, or joint pain, dry needling may be appropriate. You should consult with your PT to see if dry needling is right for you.
Most states have direct access to a physical therapist, meaning you can go directly to a physical therapist without a physician order. To determine if your state has direct access, please visit the American Physical Therapy Association’s website Physical Therapy Direct Access By State.
Not all PTs perform the dry needling technique. To find a qualified PT near you, please click on Find A Clinic. This link will help you find a PT in your area that performs the dry needle technique.