What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is the insertion of a solid needle(s) by a trained medical professional directly into specific muscle myofascial trigger points (MTrP) in a person’s body. MTrPs are taught and hyperirritable muscle tissue that can cause local and/or referred pain into other surrounding areas of the person’s body. Dry needling has been around since at least the 1970s with more and more research coming out each year. Although similar to acupuncture, dry needling targets muscle tissue and focuses on the human neuromuscular anatomy, where acupuncture focuses on meridians and the flow of Qi. So how does sticking a needle in a muscle help? With the placement of dry needles, it causes a local and systemic physiological response leading to remodeling of the injured and inflamed soft tissue in that targeted area. Specifically, dry needling promotes an inflammation response to trigger the process of increased blood/fluid circulation…leading to tissue healing and homeostasis.
What are the benefits?
- Decreased pain
- Decreased disability
- Decreased muscle tension
- Increased range of motion (ROM)
Dry Needling with Electrical Nerve Stimulation:
After the dry needles have been inserted, electrical nerve stimulation (ENS) may also be applied to the metal shafts of the needles. ENS activates the muscle tissue through an electrical current, typically causing a visible muscle twitch. Dry needling + ENS further increases the body’s response to the treatment through the “rhythmic vibration” of the muscles. This vibration causes a further reduction in tissue tension, loosening of tissue adhesion, and helps improve blood circulation to/from that area.
Is it painful?
When comparing dry needling to injections, such as your annual flu shot, dry needling is significantly less painful. Although both are inserting a needle into the body, an injection uses a much larger and hollow needle in order to administer the substance of the vaccine into the body. While on the other hand, the needles used in dry needling are very small in comparison and nothing is being injected. Depending on the site of placement of the dry needles sometimes you may not even feel the insertion and removal of it at all. Also, when using ENS the amount of electrical stimulation is enough to stimulate the muscles but not enough to cause pain. Many times the sensation is described as a “light tapping” sensation.
Is it safe?
With any invasive treatment, there are always relative risks. However many of the risks can be easily avoided with proper personal protective equipment (gloves), hand-washing, and proper medical training on the techniques/procedures of dry needling. Also, depending on your medical history, there are specific relative and absolute contraindications of the use of dry needling. That being said, it is always recommended to talk to your physician or Physical Therapist about whether dry needling would be beneficial for you.
- Dr. Arron Pierce PT, DPT
-Firth, C., Meon, J., Price, M., Taylor, J. and Grace, S., 2021. Dry Needling: A literature Review. American Physical Therapy Association.-Gargano, F. Advanced Integrative Dry Needling for Pain Management and Performance Enhancement.