Dry needling is a technique that uses a small sterile solid filament needle to treat trigger points. Trigger points are nodules in a taut band of muscle that cause local pain, referred pain, and movement dysfunction. During a dry needling treatment session, the needle is inserted directly into the trigger point and the trigger point is released or inactivated. Once the trigger points are released, the muscle can begin to return to normal function and length which results in decreased pain and improved movement. Dry needling, in conjunction with other physical therapy treatments, is very effective in the treatment of a variety of musculoskeletal issues.
Trigger points can form for many reasons. Often repetitive movements, poor posture, or poor body mechanics and result in the development of trigger points. Trigger points can also form after an acute injury when muscles get excessively loaded/stretched or shortly after an injury when muscles try to “protect” an injured joint.
The exact mechanism of how dry needling works is still being researched. The current theory is when the solid filament needle is directed into the trigger point, it causes a chemical change in the muscle that allows the muscle to relax.
Any musculoskeletal problems that have trigger points. These problems can include headaches, neck/low back pain, joint/muscle pain, and/or limited joint range of motion. Sometimes trigger points can cause pain that mimics some diagnoses such as tendonitis, bursitis, and plantar fasciitis, among others. Your therapist will do an evaluation to determine if dry needling can help you.
Different people report different sensations during dry needling. Most people do not feel the needle being inserted. Once the needle enters the trigger point, the muscle may twitch, a phenomenon called a local twitch response. The local twitch response is a good thing and often means the trigger point is being released. This may cause a very brief painful response that has been described as a sensation like a small electric shock or a cramping/achey sensation. After treatment, many patients report muscle soreness, similar to you might experience after working out. This soreness may last from a few hours up to 2 days.
Most people report some degree of immediate change after one session of dry needling. If you do not see a change after four treatments, dry needling may not be the treatment you need.
If trigger points are part of your condition, using dry needling to break the pain cycle, improve the way muscles work, or to improve range of motion can be an important part of the overall treatment.
**Preliminary research supports that dry needling improved pain control, reduces muscle tension, normalizes biochemical and electrical dysfunction of motor endplates, and facilitates an accelerated return to active rehabilitation.