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Dry Needling: What Is It?

Dry needling, discovered in the 1940’s, is still being heavily researched today. It is one of many techniques utilized by a physical therapist or healthcare professional to alleviate pain and increase range of motion. Generally performed by physical therapists or sports medicine doctors, dry needling utilizes thin, acupuncture needles to target “trigger points” in muscle and fascia to decrease neuromuscular pain/discomfort and increase mobility. The name “dry” simply means that no medication or fluid is inserted during treatment.

Comprehensive research regarding the scientific mechanisms of dry needling is limited, but clinical studies overwhelmingly support the role of dry needling as a targeted approach in the reduction of pain. While there are many emerging scientific hypotheses surrounding how dry needling leads to pain reduction and range of motion increase, the exact mechanism is still being investigated. This is likely because of the novel nature of the treatment modality.

What is dry needling NOT?

It’s not a one time fix.

  • Booker T. Washington once noted that, “Nothing ever comes to anyone, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” Dry needling is a multi-modal approach utilized by physical therapists, meaning there are many other factors to be considered and applied throughout the treatment process.

It’s not a guaranteed solution to chronic pain.

  • Dry needling is simply one of many tools utilized by Prime Performance to help you get out of pain and back into doing the things you love.

Dry needling is not the same as acupuncture.

  • Acupuncture is a pain management technique rooted in ancient Chinese medicine. The premise of acupuncture is that pain results from our energy flow being out of alignment, so acupuncture aims to realign these energy pathways. Dry needling focuses on modern anatomical knowledge to directly target painful areas in the body, as opposed to the energy pathways targeted in acupuncture.

How does it work?

The perception of a stimuli as a potential threat can cause our brain to elicit a pain response, sometimes even in the absence of an actual threat. Dry needling helps our brain to not interpret non-threatening stimuli as threatening, which in turn allows for decreased pain. Dry needling functions as a treatment modality by desensitizing an area that is painful and opens up a window for better movement. With the help of exercise, dry needling is able to quiet the pain signals, enabling healthier movement and improving range of motion.

Dry needling works by directly targeting myofascial trigger points (MTrPs), or knots, and the tense muscles that tend to surround the knot.1 Clinical evidence points to the insertion of the needle into the knot and surrounding muscular region having “pricked” the nerve endings and thus alleviating pain.1 Quite often with dry needling, the insertion of the needle in the MTrP will elicit a local twitch response, felt by the patient and therapist. This twitch is not painful but causes “a very strong neural impulse to the MTrP circuit to break the vicious cycle so that MTrP pain is relieved.”1 This twitch caused by the needle essentially “interrupts” the pain cycle and thus, helps you to move better! While the twitch is often reported during dry needling, studies have found that a decrease in pain symptoms have been reported without the twitch.

How could dry needling help me?

Dry needling has shown to be helpful in treating a plethora of pain related issues such as: low back pain, neck pain, shin splints, tennis elbow, shoulder impingement, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even headaches. Dry needling has shown to increase range of motion and decrease shoulder pain in patients following a stroke.2 In patients with Acute Facet Joint Lock Induced Wry Neck (AFJL-WN), pain reduction and cervical spine mobility increase were reported by patients immediately following the treatment, as well as at 24 hours and 1 week follow ups.3

Dry needling has also been seen as effective in increasing athletic performance. One study looked into dry needling and its impact on an athlete’s vertical jump height. The experimental group who received dry needling increased their vertical jump height by 1.2 inches more than compared to the group who received no treatment.4 We are starting to see exciting results in scientific literature that points to dry needling playing a beneficial role in athletic performance and rehabilitation.

Dry needling has been shown to be most successful when reinforced by movement and exercise. Optimal movement following dry needling includes weighted exercises and resistance training. For example, if a patient came into the clinic with low back pain and the area was dry needled, the patient would then perform exercises and mobility such as jefferson curls or deadlifts to reinforce the increased strength and mobility gained from the dry needling.

To learn more about dry needling, performance training, or how we can help you get out of pain and back to doing the things you love, email us at We look forward to hearing from you!

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