If you’re interested in options for chronic pain relief, you may have heard of treatments like dry needling. While it has some similarities to acupuncture, dry needling is its own science-based treatment designed to relieve pain and treat musculoskeletal dysfunction.
The name may sound intimidating, but dry needling is safe and painless — anyone from athletes to people with chronic pain can make use of the treatment to relieve pain and improve mobility. The treatment process involves inserting thin needles into the tissue to stimulate “knots” in the muscles.
So how does dry needling work? Let’s break down the process of dry needling — what it is, what to expect, and some frequently asked questions about the treatment.
What Is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a safe and effective technique used to treat musculoskeletal pain. Performed by a trained physical therapist, the process includes inserting thin needles — referred to as “dry” because nothing is injected into the body — through the skin into the muscle tissue.
This ultrathin monofilament needle is designed to reach “trigger points” in the body. A trigger point is known more casually as a “knot” in the muscle or a tight contraction in the muscle that can limit motion and cause pain. When the trigger point is stimulated by a dry needle, it can relax muscle tightness, improve blood flow, reduce pain, and improve mobility.
Research suggests that dry needling is an effective treatment method for muscle groups across the body. It can be used for anything from a sports-related knee injury to chronic back pain. While it’s effective as a stand-alone treatment, it’s often part of a broader physical therapy routine, including treatments like foam rolling, stretching, electric stimulation, spinal alignments, and more.
The Dry Needling Treatment Process
While dry needling is generally a simple and painless procedure, it can help to know what to expect before you go in. During a treatment session, you’ll lie in a comfortable and relaxed position that allows easy access to the affected area.
The therapist will gently massage the area to locate the trigger point for the procedure itself. Then, they will gently insert the needle in the right spot, leaving it in for anywhere between 30 seconds and a few minutes. They may do static needling, leaving the needle untouched or gently moving the needle in and out to help stimulate the knot.
When the needle goes in, it stimulates a “twitch” response in the muscle, which releases the trigger point to relax the muscle. Most patients don’t feel the needle going in, but they may feel light discomfort — usually an ache or a cramp — as the muscle tissue spasms and then relaxes.
Benefits of Dry Needling
People seek out dry needling for a range of different issues, including muscle tension, injuries, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, tension headaches, TMJ, and other types of pain in the legs, arms, jaw, neck, hips, lower back, and shoulders.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists, dry needling has a range of benefits, like reducing muscle tension and improving overall muscle recovery. A full list of the benefits of dry needling includes:
- Boosts blood flow and circulation
- Reduces inflammation in the muscles
- Promotes faster healing and recovery
- Relaxes tension in the muscles
- Provides fast-acting pain relief
- Improves mobility and range of motion
Dry needling isn’t just gaining popularity for its effectiveness — it also has a low risk of side effects. As it is a minimally invasive and pain-free treatment, the benefits of dry needling far outweigh any minor discomfort during the procedure itself.
Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture
While the treatments may seem similar, it’s important to note that dry needling is not the same thing as acupuncture. While both involve the insertion of needles, they’re performed using different techniques.
Dry needling is distantly related to acupuncture, often seen as the modern version of the ancient Chinese practice. However, acupuncture aims to treat the entire body, restoring the flow of energy through specific “acupoints” to improve overall health. Dry needling, on the other hand, involves the targeted insertion of needles in muscle trigger points to treat a specific area of the body.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before you go in for a dry needling session, you may still have questions about how it works. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the dry needling process.
Does dry needling hurt?
Given that the procedure includes needles, it’s natural to be concerned about feeling any pain.
However, the needle used in the procedure is very thin. Most people won’t feel the needle enter their skin. You may, however, feel something when your muscle relaxes. This short-lived sensation, which may feel like a shock, cramp, or ache in the muscle, is a sign that the treatment is working.
How often should you receive dry needling treatment?
Every patient’s treatment journey is different. However, most will need to go through several sessions of dry needling before seeing the results they’re looking for. For chronic conditions, it may take a long-term treatment plan to get the desired outcome.
Can you do dry needling at home?
Dry needling should always be done by a licensed physical therapist. Without the right professional techniques, dry needling at home could cause permanent damage to the muscle.
Does dry needling work better with chiropractic treatment?
Dry needling and chiropractic treatment often overlap — issues like back and neck pain, plantar fasciitis, and spinal misalignment can benefit from a combination of dry needling and chiropractic care. In fact, dry needling may lead to the best results when combined with other treatments that address the underlying cause of the pain.
If your chiropractor believes that trigger points could be contributing to your pain, they may recommend dry needling as part of your treatment plan.
Top Dry Needling at Reinhardt Chiropractic
Anyone suffering from pain related to trigger points can benefit from dry needling. When combined with other treatment options, the treatment can offer immediate pain relief, along with a faster recovery time and long-term improvements in mobility. If you think dry needling could be an addition to your treatment plan for muscle recovery, back and neck pain, injuries, and more, reach out to your chiropractor or health provider to ask if it might be right for you.
At Reinhardt Chiropractic, we prioritize providing a personalized, holistic plan for everyone who comes through our doors. Our staff members are happy to answer any questions you have about dry needling and whether it’s a good option for you. Learn more about how we do dry needling or schedule an appointment today.
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