“Dry Needling” is the use of small filament needles inserted into muscles to decrease pain and spasm. Because this technique is only performed by specialists who have been extensively trained and certified, not all physical therapists perform dry needling. Dry needling is different than the more common “trigger-point injections” in that no syringe is used, and no fluid is injected into the muscle. The needle itself is what creates the muscle relaxation. In fact, it is likely that the success of trigger-point injections is a result of the needle itself rather than the substance injected. The needles used in dry needling are much smaller than needles that give injections.
When a needle is inserted into a muscle spasm, the needle creates an involuntary twitch response in the muscle. The muscle subsequently relaxes, and pain associated with the muscle spasm is significantly reduced. When this treatment is properly combined with corrective exercises and other manual therapies, recovery time from an injury can be significantly reduced. Dry needling is not a substitute for stretching or strengthening, and the underlying cause of pain must still be addressed in order for a problem to be permanently resolved.
Risk associated with dry needling is very low. The most common side effect is muscle soreness usually lasting 1 to 3 days. Bruising may also occur at the site of the procedure.
What can dry needling treat?
Tension headaches and migraines