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Dry needling is a huge part of my every day practice, so much so, that I can’t remember what PT life was like without it! As a result, I forget that it’s relatively new and that most people have never even heard of it.
It has made such a big impact on the positive results I get from treating patients. Therefore, I figured it’s time to get the word out.
What Is DRY NEEDLING???
It is a technique used by physical therapists, chiropractors, and athletic trainers to treat pain and movement impairments. “Dry” needles (needles without medication or injection) of different sizes are inserted through the skin into the soft tissue or joint space.
Is It The Same As Acupuncture?
No. Although the same needles are used for both dry needling and acupuncture, the principles are not the same. Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine and is practiced by acupuncturists. In contrast, dry needling is based on modern Western medicine principles.
In acupuncture, needles are inserted along “meridians” or pathways in which exists the flow of a life force, Qi (pronounced “chi”). The goal is to address energy imbalances throughout the body and restore proper energy flow.
In dry needling, however, needles are inserted into muscles, ligaments, tendons, or joints in the area in which the patient is experiencing pain or a movement dysfunction.
Does Dry Needling Hurt?
This really depends on the person and the location where it is being performed.
The patient usually feels a little pinch when the needle breaks through the skin and then may feel a variety of things.
-Nothing- some patients report feeling nothing at all, not even the initial pinch.
-A dull ache- this is what we are looking for and indicates we are in the right area.
– A stinging or burning- although hitting a blood vessel or nerve is not harmful, it is uncomfortable and I usually move the needle to a different spot if the patient reports stinging or burning.
-A twitch response- a brief muscle twitch if the needle hits a trigger point.
Subsequently, depending on the person and on the location, there may be some resulting soreness that could last 24-48 hours.
How Does It Work?
- Releasing trigger points… which is why you will sometimes hear it referred to as trigger point dry needling. A trigger point is a tender spot/ taut band in a muscle where if you press on it, the pain usually radiates.
- Creating a “microtrauma”, which signals to the body that it needs to come heal the area.
- Promoting blood flow.
The Benefits Of Dry Needling
- Speeds up the rate of recovery from injury
- Helps decrease swelling
- Rapid pain relief without use of medication/narcotics
- Helps decrease muscle spasm
- Helps decrease scar tissue
- Very small level of risk
Potential Side Effects
- residual soreness
- localized bruising/redness
- diaphoresis (sweating)
Important Points About Dry Needling
It should not be a stand-alone treatment.
- It can be used in conjunction with other physical therapy modalities including scraping, cupping, and other manual therapies.
- It should also be followed up with stretching, muscle activation, and corrective exercises prescribed by the physical therapist.
- Performing it is not legal in all US states, but it is here in North Carolina!
Check the status of YOUR state on this infographic by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
—–> By the way, if you are curious about what it’s like to be a physical therapist for the military, check out my post here. <——