Dry needling is a technique used by physical therapists to treat pain of a muscular origin. The technique uses a “dry” needle, which means that it does not inject a medication into the body tissues. The needle is also solid, and not hollow, so it does not punch a round hole in the skin when inserted into areas of the muscle. In addition, the needles have a very small diameter, so they do not create much trauma while being inserted into the body. Usually, the patient does not even bleed during the procedure. Sometimes the technique is used for areas of the muscle with taught bands, commonly referred to as “trigger points.” For this reason, dry needling is also referred to sometimes as trigger point dry needling or intramuscular manual therapy. Dry needling is not the same as acupuncture, which is based on traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture focuses on restoring the flow of life force or chi throughout the body, whereas dry needling is focused on targeting dysfunctional muscular tissues in a systematic manner in order to improve functional movement patterns. The techniques are comparable in that they use either the same needles or ones that are designed by physical therapists and are similar in nature. The technique is beneficial due to the needle’s ability to reach tissues that would normally not be palpable by hand. This technique is typically not used in isolation, but is a part of the larger plan of care that involves manual therapy (joint mobilization/manipulation), pain education, and corrective exercise. The goal of dry needling should be to improve function and improve range of motion. It can be used to either inhibit muscles that are overactive, or facilitate muscles that are more dormant than they should be. Some preliminary research suggests that dry needling can improve pain control, muscle tension, and decreases dysfunction of the motor end plates (the site of nerve impulse transmission to the muscle). These improvements can aid in speeding up a patient’s return to function in combination with other active treatments, like exercise. Physical therapists are extremely well educated in human anatomy, which makes them truly qualified to be practitioners who utilize this helpful technique. Therapists who perform dry needling typically have undergone some form of supplemental and specific postgraduate training in order to perform this advanced skill. When contacting a physical therapist for this type of treatment, be sure to ask and verify that they have undergone the proper training and that they have sufficient experience prior to making your appointment. Come see us today and see if dry needling is the treatment that you need to get you back in the game!
Kalichman L, Vulfsons S. Dry needling in the management musculoskeletal pain. J Am Board Fam Med. 2010;23(5):640–646.
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