What is Dry Needling?
The name “dry needling” comes from studies that were done to determine the effectiveness of injections. The studies showed that just putting a needle into a trigger point (a small, tight, tender area in a muscle) was just as effective as injecting a pain relieving or anti-inflammatory medication into the trigger point. Since nothing is injected with dry needling, we refer to it as “dry.”
Is Dry Needling the Same as Acupuncture?
While the two are often confused, they are actually different treatments. Dry needling is performed in the dysfunctional area, whereas acupuncture may be performed in the hand to address a headache, for example. Dry needling also focuses mainly on the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions.
How is Dry Needling Done?
First, the area of pain or tension will be assessed in order to locate trigger points. Then a needle will be placed into the muscle, and then the needle will be moved around in small movements that cause the muscle to activate – seen or felt as a twitch in the muscle. Once the twitching ceases, the needle is removed from the muscle.
What is the Purpose of Dry Needling?
Dry needling helps to relieve pain, help muscles relax, and improve function. Usually dry needling is used on tense muscles that are causing pain and affecting a person’s function. It is a very effective method and the results can be seen quicker than other treatments such as massage. The effects of dry needling can be felt after just one session but may take more than one to fully resolve the issue. It is used in conjunction with other treatments such as manual therapy and exercise.
Is Dry Needling Safe?
The risks associated with dry needling are minimal which makes it a safe procedure when performed by a trained practitioner. Physical therapists are regulated by each state in the training they must receive for dry needling before they can use the treatment on patients. Physical therapists also use clean technique, meaning they wear gloves and make sure that they use hand sanitizer and alcohol to sanitize the area being needled. Also, needles are kept in sealed packaging until use so that they are sanitary and safe for use. After a single use they are disposed of in a sharps container and are never reused.
Does Dry Needling Hurt?
Every person is different, and each muscle responds differently to dry needling. The process can be uncomfortable, but is usually not painful. The needle used for dry needling is a very thin needle similar to those used for acupuncture, so there is usually no pain associated with the needle being inserted into the skin. The muscle twitches associated with dry needling can be uncomfortable but typically are not painful. There may be some lingering soreness afterwards but this usually lasts less than 24 hours. Drinking plenty of water after having dry needling done can help to lessen this soreness.
Is Everyone Appropriate for Dry Needling?
While dry needling is a very effective and safe procedure for most people, not everyone is a candidate for it. There are certain precautions that can affect someone’s ability to have dry needling done (for example, over the area of a pacemaker). There is also a timeline of when dry needling is appropriate after surgery so that there is no increased risk for infection. Talk to your physical therapist to see if you’re appropriate for dry needling.
This blog was specially written by our friend and guest writer Rachel Zimmerman, DPT.
Rachel is clinic director at ATI Physical Therapy right here in Green Bay, WI. You can find out more about her clinic or find a location near you at ATIpt.com!