Dry needling is a technique physical therapists use to treat pain. This special technique uses a “dry” needle, meaning that it does not use medication or injection. The needle is inserted through the skin into areas of the muscle, known as trigger points.
Physical therapists use dry needling with the goal of releasing or inactivating trigger points to relieve pain or improve range of motion. Current research shows that dry needling reduces muscle tension, improves pain control, and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates (where nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles). This can help speed up your return to active rehabilitation. If dry needling is deemed an appropriate modality, it will be used as one technique that is part of a larger treatment plan. Manual techniques, exercises, and muscle re-education will continue to be used.
Dry needling is not acupuncture. Acupuncture follows the theoretical framework of traditional Chinese medicine with the purpose of altering the flow of Qi or energy along traditional Chinese meridians. Dry needling is a part of modern Western medicine principles, and supported by research. Although most superficial and deep dry needling techniques are used within trigger points, some research has demonstrated that needling of distal points (not trigger points) stimulates the descending pain inhibitory systems or areas of the brain that are involved in pain control. Therefore, your physical therapist may follow a protocol to place a needle in an area further away from your pain.