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What Is Dry Needling In Physical Therapy?

Dry needling is a technique used by healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists to treat musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. During dry needling, a thin, sterile needle is inserted into the skin and muscle at specific points, called trigger points, in order to release tension and improve muscle function. Because there is no substance or medication being injected into the body, it is considered “dry”.

You might consider dry needling if you have joint or disk issues, tendinitis, migraines, or whiplash. The treatment helps to relax muscles, boost blood flow, reduce inflammation, and prompt a healing response. 

However, before adding the treatment to your routine, it is important to understand dry needling is usually part of a treatment plan provided by your physical therapist, and that a safe procedure requires more training beyond entry-level physical therapy education. 

Although dry needling can be used to complement physiotherapy, it is a very specific procedure and therefore performed by a specialist TCM practitioner at our clinic.

Continue reading the article below to learn more about What is Dry Needling in Physical Therapy?

What Is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is used to treat pain and movement problems caused by myofascial trigger points. The technique involves the insertion of thin needles into or near these points, which then stimulate the muscles, leading to contraction or twitching. Implementing the practice of dry needling helps alleviate discomfort and enhance your range of motion.

The Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture

Dry needling is a modern Western medical technique that targets myofascial trigger points, which are areas of muscle tension and pain. The aim of dry needling is to alleviate pain and improve muscle function by inserting a needle into the trigger point, causing the muscle to twitch or contract, and releasing the tension.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that aims to balance the flow of energy (called “qi”) in the body. Acupuncturists insert needles at specific points along the body’s meridians (energy pathways) to restore the balance of qi and promote healing.

While dry needling and acupuncture use similar tools, the techniques differ in terms of their target areas, treatment goals, and underlying philosophies.

How Does Dry Needling Work For Pain Relief?

While the exact mechanism of how dry needling works for pain relief is not fully understood, it is believed to involve several physiological processes.

One proposed idea is that dry needling causes a local twitch response in the muscle, which leads to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. The twitch response also stimulates blood flow to the area, promoting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissue.

Additionally, dry needling is thought to help reset the nervous system by targeting trigger points, which are areas of hyperirritability in the muscle. These trigger points can cause pain and discomfort, and by targeting them with dry needling, the nervous system may be stimulated to reduce pain signals to the brain.

Conditions That Can Be Treated By Dry Needling

Dry needling can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions. One condition is office syndrome, a condition that results in pain and soreness in the spine or muscles caused by sitting or remaining in the same position for long periods of time. Implementing dry needling can reduce pain by stimulating the circulatory system and muscle function, and can help you return to work normally.

Athletes can also benefit from dry needling. If you deal with muscle pain and soreness from sports, dry needling can provide fast pain relief and help recovery. It does this by targeting trigger points in the muscle, which are areas of hyperirritability and tightness. Trigger points can result in pain, discomfort, and a restricted range of motion, but dry needling can reduce the tension in these areas by targeting them directly.

How Does Dry Needling Work in Physical Therapy?

Dry needling can be used to complement other therapeutic techniques, such as manual therapy, exercise and stretching, to help patients recover from injuries, improve their mobility, and alleviate pain.

During the procedure, the trained TCM practitioner locates the trigger points in the area. They then insert a dry needle through the skin to those points. The needle may be thicker or larger, but a “normal” size is usually around 0.3 mm to 10 mm. The physical therapist may then move the needle around to stimulate a “twitch” muscle response, which is a good sign that the muscle is reacting. 

It is important to note that while physiotherapists can do dry needling, in Thailand it is mainly performed by TCM practitioners. At Form Recovery and Wellness, dry needling is part of TCM (rather than physiotherapy), and it is usually combined with a larger plan for pain management that can also include exercise, stretching, massage and other physical therapy techniques.

Risks And Side Effects Of Dry Needling

The treatment is very safe when performed by a trained professional. Some side effects may occur, including:

  • Temporary pain during treatment 
  • Bruising at the treatment site (this is normally mild)
  • Fatigue

Side effects are usually minor, and serious side effects are very rare. However, it is important to ensure that the treatment is being done by a properly trained professional.

What to Expect During a Dry Needling Session

Before the treatment, your therapist will perform an assessment to determine which muscles or trigger points need to be targeted. Then they will insert the thin needles into the targeted muscles or trigger points. You may feel a slight prick or a mild ache as the needle is inserted, but the procedure is generally not painful. 

At this point, you may experience the “twitch” response, which will help relieve the tension in the muscle. The needles will typically be left in the muscle for a few minutes, depending on the type of treatment. 

After the needles are removed, you might be instructed on recommended exercises or stretches to help improve the benefits of the procedure. While dry needling is slightly more painful than conventional acupuncture, the pain will decrease after the session almost immediately or within 1-2 days.

Form Physio Rehab Team Photo Happy

Dry Needling at Form Recovery and Wellness

Dry needling can be an effective treatment to alleviate musculoskeletal pain caused by myofascial trigger points. Unlike acupuncture, it targets trigger points in muscles to improve muscle function, release tension and alleviate pain. 

Dry needling is often used in addition to other therapeutic techniques and is not a standalone treatment. If you’re wondering how dry needling can benefit you, get in touch with Form Recovery and Wellness. Our specialist TCM practitioners can show you how dry needling can be a valuable part of a larger treatment plan for pain management, exercise, and stretching to improve mobility. If you would like to know more about how dry needling can help you, speak with a specialist today!


Thipkrita Thitipongpreeda

Thipkrita (Fair) Thitipongpreeda
Senior TCM Therapist at Form Recovery and Wellness

Khun Thipkrita is our Senior TCM Therapist at Form Recovery and Wellness. Thipkrita graduated from Mae Fah Luang University with a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She also worked and studied TCM at Xiamen University in China before moving back to Thailand. Thipkrita is a true team player who believes in the power of our Team Based Approach to give all our clients the highest chance of success.

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