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dry needling

Dry Needling – What Is It and How Can It Help?

Dry needling is a skilled intervention that uses a thin filiform needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate underlying myofascial trigger points, muscular, and connective tissues for the management of neuromusculoskeletal pain and movement impairments.

Let’s pause here for clarification.

Needles, Trigger Points and Pain

First, the needle used is the same size as needles used for acupuncture, so they are very tiny in diameter.  Most patients do not feel them penetrate the skin.

Second, a trigger point is an irritable point in a muscle that is associated with a palpable taught band, or “knot.” This area becomes painful and can refer pain to other areas of the body.

Third, these trigger points and the pain they cause will create movement impairments that eventually cause other problems in the body.

Dry Needling Techniques

Dry needling is a technique used to treat dysfunctions in skeletal muscle, fascia, and connective tissue. It reduces or eliminates persistent pain and restores body structure and function leading to improved activity and participation. A healthy muscle feels very little discomfort with insertion of this needle. However if the muscle is sensitive and has active trigger points within it, the subject will feel a sensation like a muscle cramp, also called a twitch response. This twitch response is what causes a neurological reflex to occur, and helps to restore normal muscle function.

There is often confusion about the difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture. The objectives and philosophy behind the use of dry needling by physical therapists is not based on traditional Chinese medicine. The performance of dry needling by physical therapists is based on anatomy and current scientific study of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. The placement of needles for dry needling is based on a thorough evaluation of your musculoskeletal system, depending on where trigger points or tissue dysfunction is found. The only similarity is the tool used, the needle.

Dry Needling Paired with Physical Therapy

In addition to physical therapy, dry needling can help with a variety of pain problems. My experience has been that if pain arises from a muscular source, dry needling can help calm the muscle trigger point and allow better movement for exercise.  It is important that you have a good evaluation to determine if the true cause of your pain is indeed related to the nervous, muscular or fascial system.  I have found that chronic pain conditions respond very well to treatment with dry needling.  It is also very helpful in more acute issues like pain associated with running, cycling, cross fit and weight training.  It can be helpful in many conditions such as migraine headaches, neck and back pain, Fibromyalgia, chronic pelvic pain, Sciatica, TMJ and muscle strain.

Dry Needling Side Effects

​There are very few side effects to Dry Needling. Mild muscle soreness that lasts 24-48 hours is common. Bruising is also possible, but less common. The addition of dry needling has been a wonderful asset to my practice as a physical therapist.  It has allowed my patients to progress exercise a bit faster, with less pain. Dry needling has also shortened recovery time, even in the most chronic patients.   For more information or to schedule an appointment, please visit our website,


  • Sarah Dominguez, PT, MPT, CLT, WCS
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