What is dry needling and how does it work?

Dry needling is a form of therapy in which fine needles are inserted into muscles, tendons, ligaments, or nerves in order to relieve pain or tension and stimulate a healing response. Unlike needles that are used to inject medication or draw blood these needles are thinner and not hollow, hence the term “dry needling”. Dry needling often involves the stimulation of painful “trigger points” in the muscle tissue that are caused by overuse, overload, or overstretch.   Insertion and manipulation of dry needles results in mechanical, neurological, and chemical changes in the body that “reset” the painful area.

Is dry needling the same as acupuncture?

This is one of the more frequent questions that dry needling practitioners are asked. While dry needling and acupuncture use the same type of needles there are different theories and techniques involved with each practice. Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine and aims to improve balance in the body by directing the flow of Qi (energy) along meridians (pathways) in order to decrease pain and inflammation. Dry needling, which is rooted in the modern scientific study of human anatomy and physiology, attacks musculoskeletal and neuromuscular pain and restrictions more directly. While some needle insertion points may overlap between the two disciplines, the location, depth, and technique of insertion often differ.

What will my dry needling experience be like?

Your therapist will perform a full evaluation to determine the cause of your pain or loss of function and if dry needling is the appropriate treatment method. Depending on your diagnosis the therapist may insert one or several needles through the skin by sliding them through a small guide tube. As the needle moves closer to the target area your therapist will ask you to describe the sensation, which is typically either an aching or cramping sensation or nothing at all. Once the needles have been positioned your therapist will either leave them in place or manipulate them in order to achieve the desired response. Some dry needling sessions may also involve the use of an electrical stimulation device to further enhance the treatment effect.

Is dry needling painful?

You may or may not feel a small prick at the insertion of the needle; this varies by client and the location of insertion. You may feel a dull ache or cramping sensation but this usually resolves after a few seconds and is considered beneficial.

What are the benefits of dry needling?

  • Decreases pain
  • Decreases inflammation
  • Improves blood flow
  • Promotes tissue healing
  • Relieves muscular tension
  • Improves mobility and function

What are the risks of dry needling?

In order to practice dry needling our certified therapists have undergone extensive hands-on training. Dry needling is typically a very safe procedure; however serious side effects can occur in less than 1 out of 10,000 treatments (less than 0.01%). More common side effects include:

  • Temporary pain during treatment – 60-70%
  • Minor bleeding and/or bruising after treatment – 15-20%
  • Prolonged discomfort during treatment – 3-6%
  • Drowsiness, fatigue, or dizziness after treatment – 1-3%
  • Fainting – 0.3%
  • Nerve/blood vessel damage resulting in pain, numbness, or tingling – very rare and usually temporary

While many clients report significant pain relief and improved function following their first session, it’s possible that you may notice minimal improvement or in rare cases worsening of symptoms. This doesn’t necessarily mean that dry needling is not the right treatment for you! There are many variables that determine the intensity of your dry needling experience, including needle placement, number of needles, and application of electrical stimulation. We encourage anyone interested in dry needling to commit to at least 2-3 sessions so that we can work to find the right approach for you. Otherwise, no problem! There are a variety of other manual therapy techniques that we can use to help relieve your pain and improve your mobility and function.

Schedule an assessment today and discover the amazing difference that dry needling can make!