Dry needling is a treatment that involves a very thin "dry" needle (without medication or injection) being pushed through the skin. Dry needling may release the tight muscle bands associated with trigger points and lead to decreased pain and improved function.
Myofascial pain syndrome, or trigger points, can be a source of pain and limit function. Trigger points are irritable, hard "knots" within a muscle that may cause pain over a large area, leading to difficulty performing everyday tasks. When a trigger point is touched, it hurts and can also cause pain in nearby areas. Preliminary research supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.
Dry needling is a specialized treatment for trigger points provided by some physical therapists. It is one possible treatment option, usually combined with other techniques including exercises, to manage acute and chronic pain.
It can be used to treat a variety of conditions like sciatica, tendinopathies, neck pain, back pain, muscle spasms, hip or knee pain, muscle strains, fibromyalgia, tennis or golfer's elbow, or overuse injuries as well as headaches.
Your physical therapist can perform a thorough evaluation to help determine if you are a good candidate for this treatment as part of a program designed to reduce your pain and improve your function. As part of their entry level education, physical therapists are well educated in anatomy and therapeutic treatment of the body. PTs who perform dry needling supplement entry level anatomy knowledge that knowledge by obtaining specific postgraduate education and training. When contacting a PT for dry needling treatment, be sure to ask about their specific experience and education.
For most people, there is little to no discomfort with the insertion of the needle. We strive to make the treatment less painful however, but you may experience a "twitch response" which often feels like a quick muscle cramp or dull ache. This sensation is normal. Following this technique, muscle soreness can be felt up to 24-48 hours. The application of ice, good water intake, and sleep following this technique helps reduce the soreness.