What Is Dry Needling?
In physical therapy, dry needling is a technique therapists use to treat pain and movement impairments. Involving a dry, solid needle containing no type of external medication, dry needling is used to alleviate pain in areas of muscle known as trigger points.
Trigger points are tight bands or knots formed somewhere within a larger muscle group. Tender to the touch, trigger points often cause pain throughout the body.
Also known as trigger point dry needling or intramuscular manual therapy, dry needling is often presumed to be the same as acupuncture. While the techniques both use the same type of needles, acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine and performed by acupuncturists and dry needling is part of modern Western medicine.
How Does Dry Needling Work?
Because the needle is solid, containing no medication nor the ability to extract fluids, the technique is called “dry.” The incredibly thin needles are typically not felt during the insertion process. Once inserted, the needle may cause a bit of discomfort similar to an ache or cramp or tingling feeling. This is short-lived, and actually indicates the technique is doing what it’s designed to do.
The thin needle penetrates the skin and stimulates underlying myofascial trigger points, as well as muscular and connective tissues, enabling your physical therapist to target tissues that are not manually palpable.
Why Dry Needling?
Dry needling is typically used in conjunctions with other techniques, as a part of a larger treatment plan.
Physical therapists use dry needling to target the muscular level. Dry needling can assist in releasing a trigger point or reset the firing of the nervous system to that particular muscle. Releasing or inactivating trigger points helps to relieve pain and/or improve range of motion.
Dry needling works to improve pain control, reduce muscle tension and normalize dysfunction of the motor end plates. These are the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. Together, this can drastically speed up your return to active rehabilitation!
Why Do Trigger Points Form?
Trigger points form when a muscle experiences injury or overuse. These points are similar to scar tissue within the muscle group. This scarring limits the tissue’s ability to function, causing muscle bands to become short and tight, irritating nerves, and triggering pain. Pain from these trigger points often gets worse, and if untreated, chronic trigger point pain may lead to sleep disorders and fibromyalgia.
Dry needling stimulates the underlying trigger point, and the tight band of scar tissue responds by producing what is called a twitch reflex. This twitch reflex decreases muscle contraction, reducing irritation and pain and improving flexibility.
Trigger points are difficult to treat manually, incredibly so. Dry needling allows your physical therapist to trigger and target tissues they otherwise could not stimulate manually.
Who Can Benefit From Dry Needling?
Dry needling can help decrease pain in many conditions. Some of these conditions include:
- Acute, chronic, or traumatic injuries
- Athletic related injuries
- Back or neck pain
- Chronic pain
- Hip or knee pain
- Muscle strains and spasms
- Post-op pain
- Tennis or golfer’s elbow
Are There Any Side Effects to Dry Needling?
The effects of any procedure vary from person to person, but generally speaking, dry needling is pain free with few if any side effects. If you do experience side effects, they may include bruising or mild muscle soreness. Ice and heat can help alleviate any discomfort.
Your physical therapist will watch for improvement after your first session. These improvements may include increased range of motion and decreased feelings of pain or tightness.
If you’re experiencing pain and decreased range of motion from trigger points or other muscular strain, dry needling from the licensed physical therapists at Oklahoma Hand and Physical Therapy can bring you much-needed relief! Contact us today!