What is dry needling?

Dry needling is also called trigger point dry needling or myofascial trigger point dry needling. It is done by acupuncturists, some chiropractors, medical doctors, and some physical therapists (PTs) to treat myofascial pain. The word “myofascial” is made up of the roots “myo” (which refers to muscle) and “fascia” (which refers to the tissue that connects muscle).

Muscles sometimes develop knotted areas called trigger points. These trigger points are highly sensitive and can be painful when touched. They are also often the cause of referred pain (or pain that affects another part of the body). Clinicians push thin solid needles through the skin into trigger points. The needles are used to stimulate the tissue, not to inject medication.

Pain affects how your body moves. It is thought that dry needling changes the way the brain and muscles talk to each other to let the system return to a more normal movement pattern.

A patient may experience different sensations when being needled, muscle soreness, aching and a muscle twitch when a needle is inserted is considered to be a good sign. The needles may be placed deeply or superficially, for shorter or longer periods of time, depending on what type of pain is being treated and how long it has lasted. Shorter periods of time would mean that needle would stay in the muscle for seconds, while longer periods could mean 10 to 15 minutes.

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What kinds of pain does dry needling treat?

Dry needling is almost always used as a part of an overall plan that will likely include some type of exercise, manual therapy, heat therapy, and education. Dry needling is used to increase range of motion that may be limited due to muscle tightness or scar tissue. Dry needling may also treat:

  • Joint problems
  • Disc problems
  • Tendinitis
  • Migraine and tension-type headaches
  • Jaw and mouth problems (such as temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD)
  • Whiplash
  • Repetitive motion disorders (like carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Spinal problems
  • Pelvic pain
  • Night cramps
  • Phantom pain
  • Post-herpetic neuralgia (pain left behind by shingles)
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Dry needling vs. acupuncture: What the research says.

People have used acupuncture for centuries, and it is now well regulated. Dry needling has been developed more recently.

Acupuncture can be used for a variety of medical conditions. The primary philosophy is that a body can be healed when chi, or healing energy, is released.

Dry needling is designed to relieve tightness and pain in muscles. Practitioners believe that inserting a needle directly into a knot or pressure point will release tension in the surrounding muscle.

Dry needling is usually considered safe if the practitioner uses sterile needles. Otherwise, a person is at risk of contracting blood-borne pathogens.

Further risks associated with dry needling are mild and relatively common. They include:

  • temporary soreness at insertion sites
  • bleeding at the sites
  • bruising at or around the sites
  • People who receive acupuncture rarely experience side effects. When they occur, they often include bleeding, bruising, and mild pain.

Before trying dry needling or acupuncture, consult a doctor and research available practitioners.

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