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Dry Needling

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is the use of a thin, monofilament needle advanced into a muscle in the region of a trigger point to elicit a twitch response. This twitch releases muscle tension and pain. There is also a chemical change in the trigger point that decreases inflammatory substances and reduces pain. It is often used to treat sports injuries, muscle pain and even fibromyalgia pain.

What is a trigger point?

Trigger points are usually formed in a muscle that is stressed or injured. They are irritable spots in the bands of the muscle that feel like a contracted knot and cause pain and tightness. They can also restrict blood flow and nerve signals to the muscle and cause referred pain. Trigger points can often occur in muscles near a joint that is experiencing pain and dysfunction. They may occur in the muscles in the top of the shoulder if you have neck or shoulder problems, or in the forearm muscles with tennis elbow. They can also be located at the site of the injury like in the lower back, where the muscles tighten to reduce painful movement.

Dry needling lower back physical therapy

How is dry needling different from acupuncture?

Although the instruments used in dry needling and acupuncture are similar, the processes, underlying theories, and purpose are quite different. Dry needling requires a medical diagnosis of the problem, while with acupuncture it is not relevant. A medical examination based on a thorough understanding of anatomy is imperative with dry needling to determine the origin of the pain. With dry needling, needle placement is based on the physical examination, whereas in acupuncture, it is based on the traditional Chinese Medicine concept of meridians. Lastly, after dry needling there should be a prompt and noticeable response to treatment with improvement in motion and/or pain. After acupuncture there is no immediate objective change anticipated.

Is treatment painful?

Like any procedure involving needles, the first question patients often ask is, “Will it hurt?” As the needle is inserted, you may feel a slight prick, but most patients do not feel the initial insertion. As the needle is advanced into the trigger point, the slight muscle contraction recreates similar pain symptoms of the condition for which the patient is seeking treatment. The goal is to reduce the trigger point and provide long term relief of symptoms.

What should I expect after treatment?

You may feel sore immediately after dry needling in the area treated. It is also common to have slight bruising around the area treated. Some patients may feel tired, nauseous, or emotional after treatment, but typically these feelings do not last long. At times, treatment may make your symptoms initially feel worse, but this usually subsides within 24-48 hours. Overall, there should be a decrease in the tight feeling of the muscle, and movement should improve.

Trigger point dry needling can be a very effective adjunct to your overall treatment of pain and dysfunction. It can be performed to loosen stiff muscles, ease joint pain, improve blood flow and oxygen circulation within the muscles. In conjunction with exercise, soft tissue mobilization and modalities such as moist heat and electrical stimulation, it can be a very beneficial treatment to reduce soft tissue injury and pain.

Dry needling is currently offered in many of our Connecticut and North Carolina offices. To schedule an appointment with one of our Dry Needling Certified therapists, call (888) 989-3323.