Dry needling is a form of physical therapy that involves inserting a thin needle through the skin and into the muscle. It’s also known as trigger point dry needling. Trigger points are hyperirritable spots in our muscles that are usually painful to the touch. Some people refer to trigger points as “knots” in the muscle. These areas can also refer pain to other places in our body when palpated. Why do we have trigger points or “knots”? Typically these areas are initiated by trauma or injury to a muscle. There are chemical and physiological changes that occur within the muscle after injury or trauma that develop a pattern of dysfunction. Sometimes the “trauma” is as simple as having poor posture while sitting at a computer all day.
Am I Talking About Acupuncture?
No. The only thing dry needling, performed by a physical therapist, and acupuncture have in common are the type of needles used. They are thin, solid, filament needles. Physical therapists never inject medicine or other fluids into the patient’s body. Just getting the needle safely in the right area of the muscle does the trick. Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine techniques that involve needles being used to affect energetic pathways (meridians) in the body. Acupuncture uses the needle to balance one’s energy or life force. As neuromusculoskeletal specialists, physical therapists will use dry needling for the musculature in a way that will decrease pain, release tension, improve range of motion, and assist in improving the muscle’s overall function.
How Do Needles Help a Muscle Heal?
Typically when a muscle becomes injured, an inflammatory process occurs. This involves chemical changes in the muscle, compromised circulation (decrease in oxygen), and an accumulation of waste products that build-up in the muscle tissue. Once this happens, your muscle shortens and begins to cause pain and discomfort. With needling, your muscle responds biochemically to the direct needle by releasing certain chemicals. Therefore, the muscle is able to release tension very quickly once a needle is inserted into a trigger point. Your muscle begins to contract and relax the way a healthy muscle normally would. A patient may feel minor discomfort during needling and experience soreness within 24 to 48 hours after needling.
Dry needling is a way for physical therapists to treat multiple muscles quickly and effectively. It also helps physical therapists reach deep muscles that are difficult to manually treat. Dry needling is a valuable complementary treatment to other techniques such as manual therapy and therapeutic exercise.
Is Dry Needling Right for Me?
Dry needling must be performed by a licensed physical therapist that has successfully completed a certification process. Most people with musculoskeletal issues or pain are eligible for dry needling and experience significant relief. Your physical therapist will be able to discuss your medical history and perform an evaluation to determine if dry needling is right for you!