This technique is referred to as “dry” because no solutions or medications are injected into the muscle. A physical therapist must take additional course work to become specially trained to perform therapeutic dry needling. “Wet” needling would be referred to as trigger point injections which are different and typically contain a local anesthetic or saline; physical therapists do not perform trigger point injections.
Some people feel improvement in the pain and mobility almost immediately after one dry needling session. For others, it may take more than one session.
Dry needling and acupuncture are not the same. Both techniques use the same type of needles, but that is where the similarities end.
Dry needling uses theories rooted in Western medicine. This technique is used to help with muscular issues by creating a tiny tear in the muscular tissue to promote blood flow and healing to the area.
Acupuncture is based in Eastern medicine and relieves pain or discomfort by normalizing energy flow within the body.
A trigger point, or knot, is a sensitive spot within a muscle that can be tender to the touch. An active trigger point may cause pain in other parts of your body other than within that specific muscle. They can cause muscle weakness and restricted range of motion. Trigger points often occur after injury or overuse of your muscles. Physical therapists can use dry needling to release your trigger points and reduce pain.
During a dry needling session, your physical therapist will insert a thin, sterile needle into your skin – the length of the needle depends on the treatment area. Most people feel little or no pain with needle insertion. When the needle goes into the trigger point, you may feel a twitch – don’t worry, this may be a sign that the dry needling is working!
Needles are used once per muscle and discarded. There is a low risk of infection.
A dry needling session can take as little as 15 minutes – Depending on the treatment area and amount of muscle tissue, treatments can last longer. You and your physical therapist will discuss the treatment before and agree upon the appropriate technique for your case.
After the dry needling procedure, patients may typically experience pain relief lasting from a few hours to several days to weeks. Side effects from dry needling are usually minor, but patients may experience:
- Bruising at the dry needling site
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Muscle soreness
Once the dry needling is complete, your physical therapist will work with you to create an individualized plan that uses the benefits of dry needling with other therapies.
Dry needling can be used with a wide range of musculoskeletal issues. Some of the most common reasons for treatment include, but are not limited to:
- Shoulder and arm pain
- Low back pain and neck pain, including radiculopathy (a pinched nerve)
- Hip and leg pain, including muscle strain, calf-tightness or sciatica – a condition in which a pinched spinal nerve in the lower back causes pain in the back, hip or outer side of the leg
- Foot and ankle sprain, including plantar fasciitis – inflammation of the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes
- Tendonitis – a condition in which the tissue connecting muscle to bone becomes inflamed
- Impingement – a condition in which a tendon is irritated (pinched) between structures
- Carpal tunnel syndrome – a condition of the hand and fingers caused by a pinched nerve
- Tension-type Headache and migraine
- Fibromyalgia – muscle pain that includes fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues
- Face and jaw pain
Dry needling can be used with most teens and adults with conditions affecting the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. However, there are some patients who should not have dry needling done including:
- Patients with certain bleeding disorders
- Pregnant women, especially during the first-trimester
- Patients with Diabetes
Research indicates dry needling is a safe and effective approach for treating and managing pain. Some insurance companies may not reimburse for the procedure, so be sure to ask our staff to check your insurance plan’s benefits if you are interested in trying dry needling.
Call to schedule an appointment with one of your Dry Needling certified physical therapists to see if dry needling is right for you (307)686-8177.
Author: Devery Huddleston PT, DPT
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Jenson B. On pins and needles: Just what is dry needling. Mayo Clinic. 2023. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/on-pins-and-needles-just-what-is-dry-needling.
Cleveland Clinic. Dry needling. 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16542-dry-needling.
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Select Physical Therapy. Dry needling. https://www.selectphysicaltherapy.com/services/specialty-services/dry-needling.