12. Dry Needling

What is dry needling?


Dry needling is a pain-relieving technique using a tiny acupuncture needle. The needle is inserted at points of the body that are constantly tight, creating pain relief that many patients never thought possible. The needles can treat deep parts of the muscles- areas that are often difficult to reach with massage. They cause a “twitch” response – a brief contraction followed by sustained relaxation. This response can “deactivate” painful, knotted areas in the muscles.

What can dry needling treat?

The dry needling technique can help relieve pain in most muscles, including jaw pain, shoulder pain, hamstring tension, and golfer's elbow. It can improve blood flow, speed healing time, and help rid muscles of deep knots that other techniques cannot reach. Dry needling leads to many of the same results as massage, but at a deeper level. For a patient that has experienced results with massage, but found them to be short-lived, dry needling may be a good option. It can also complement massage therapy.

How does dry needling work?

Dry needling is not acupuncture – it is based strictly on Western medical principles and research. However, it is sometimes used within the context of an acupuncture practice. According to research by Dr. Jay Shah at the National Institutes of Health, inserting a needle into trigger points can lead to biochemical changes that reduce pain. The biochemical changes can help lead to the essential twitch response, which is the first step in breaking the cycle of pain.

Will the procedure hurt?

Because the needle is so small, it does not hurt the way a larger hollow needle does when puncturing the skin. Most patients describe the sensations as “releasing” or “pressure.” The needle remains in the skin for a very short amount of time – just enough to relax the muscle. There may be a small amount of pain, which some patients describe as a slight shock or a cramping sensation, but it is well worth the lasting relief that dry needling causes.

How will I feel after the session?

The muscles treated will likely feel sore, the way they do after challenging exercise. This is because the needle has caused them to contract numerous times in quick succession in order to relax them. Patients may feel fatigued, but not so much that it interferes with everyday activities. Some patients find it helpful to treat the area with heat or ice if there is soreness. After just a couple of sessions, most feel lasting relief from pain.

How often will I need to return to maintain my progress?

Usually, a dry needling treatment is repeated every five or six days until the pain cycle is broken. The first cycle will focus on just a few key muscles. Then, as the body becomes more used to the sensations, the treatment is fine-tuned to be as effective as possible. The technique is not a quick fix; instead it is a process that will help break the pain cycle. Once the pain cycle is broken, other treatment options are introduced to help prevent future problems.