What is dry needling?

  • Friday, August 1, 2014


“You want to do what?!?!”

“Dry needling.”

“…and how will that help me??”

This is the most common response after suggesting dry needling, also referred to as functional dry needling (FDN). Dry needling is an excellent technique to deactivate trigger points and loosen shortened muscles, which can restrict motion and cause pain when doing typical activities.

It’s not acupuncture. In fact, the only similarity is the use of a solid filament needle. The key differences between dry needling and acupuncture are the evaluation technique, the application, and the overall goals.

No drugs or medicines are used, so the key behind this treatment is using the body’s natural mechanism to heal.

The evaluation is done by a physical therapist and includes a physical assessment to look at pain patterns, the neuromuscular system, and other orthopedic signs and symptoms that may be limiting an individual’s ability to participate in normal activities. If the evaluation finds that active trigger points are causing someone pain during normal activities, dry needling may be recommended.

Active trigger points are highly irritable spots that present as tight bands of muscle. They are very tender to touch and can produce pain, tenderness in other areas of the body, difficulty performing certain movements, and/or problems related to the autonomic nervous system. Trigger points can become active due to lack of conditioning, poor posture, repetitive motion and muscle imbalances, joint disorders, lack of proper sleep, and even vitamin deficiencies.

Dry needling can be used to deactivate them and improve blood flow, reduce the “banding” present in the muscle, and most importantly, restore the normal length of the muscle.

Typically, positive results are apparent within two to four treatment sessions; but these can vary depending on the cause and duration of the symptoms and the overall health of the patient. Sometimes results are apparent after one treatment.

Dry needling may not be recommended for someone who has a history of bleeding, is immune-compromised, or has had a recent surgery, and a few other specific situations.

All the effects of dry needling, in conjunction with exercises and manual techniques by a therapist, will help you get back to performing normal activities without pain. An example of this would be to treat shoulder muscles so you can reach higher into the cabinet. Another example would be to treat hamstring muscles that are tight to reduce pulling on the back so you can stand for longer periods without back pain.

There is no other treatment similar to functional dry needling that has so few side effects.

Kristin Dorio is a senior physical therapist at the NextStep Rehabilitation clinic at Murrells Inlet.

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