Dry needling involves using thin needles to target trigger points in muscles to alleviate pain and improve movement. It's like acupuncture but focuses on specific muscle knots. This treatment is gaining popularity because it can often help ease discomfort, especially for athletes and those with persistent muscle pain despite trying exercises to strengthen and stretch the affected areas. In essence, it's a method aimed at reducing pain and enhancing mobility by directly addressing tense muscle areas.
Dry needling can help relieve musculoskeletal pain by targeting trigger points.
With each subsequent dry needling session, you should experience more relief.
Dry needling should always be performed by a trained professional.
To find out if dry needling is a safe course of treatment, you should always speak with your doctor.
Let's explore more about what dry needling is and why it is beneficial.
What is dry needling?
Dry needling is a technique used to target specific points in muscles, known as trigger points, to help ease pain and improve movement. It's carried out by trained professionals like acupuncturists or physical therapists to address issues related to muscles and movement. By pinpointing these trigger points, they aim to alleviate discomfort and enhance mobility for individuals experiencing muscle-related pain or movement difficulties.
Dry needling is often part of a pain management plan, including exercise, stretching, massage, and other techniques.
How does dry needling work?
During the dry needling procedure, a therapist inserts thin, sharp needles through your skin to treat underlying myofascial trigger points. This treatment option can effectively reduce pain and enhance the range of motion of your joints.
A trigger point is a tense, sensitive, knotted, and sometimes painful area of your muscles that can hurt to touch. These trigger points can be near the location of your pain but can also cause referred pain that affects other parts of your body.
Applying dry needling to your muscle tissues can have the following advantages:
- Decrease tightness
- Increase blood flow
- Reduce local and referred pain
In dry needling, no medication is injected into the muscles or tissues; instead, solid needles are used by the providers.
When your muscles are overworked, they do not receive enough blood flow, oxygen, or nutrients to return to their natural resting state. As a result, the tissue close to your trigger point becomes more acidic, making the area more sore and painful.
By stimulating the trigger points with a needle, tension can be released and the area can be flushed with normal blood flow. The needle prick can fire nerve fibers that stimulate your brain to release endorphins, which can help relieve pain naturally.
Your doctor will identify a trigger point on your skin and puncture it with a needle during the procedure. They might move the needle around to get a local twitch response, which is a quick spasm of your muscle. A twitch response indicates that a muscle in your body is responding.
What is the recovery time?
After the dry needling procedure, your provider will remove the needles and inspect your skin for reactions. Before you leave, you will be asked to sit and rest if you feel lightheaded.
After the procedure, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. After treatment, you might feel more sore in your muscles, but you should still move. This will typically last about 24 to 36 hours. You may see bruising near the needle insertion sites, lasting up to one week.
Before starting up intense exercise again, you should wait at least 24 hours. While it is not advisable to engage in strenuous exercise, prolonged sitting can stiffen your muscles and make them more sore. Engaging in light activity within the first 24 hours is recommended.
How long do the effects last?
Although it varies from person to person, the effects of a first dry needling treatment often linger for several days. You should feel more extended relief with each additional treatment.
Usually, 24 to 48 hours following a dry needling session, you start to feel better. As you continue treatment, the post-treatment soreness usually decreases, and your results will be more noticeable directly after your session.
Who should try dry needling?
If you have ongoing pain despite exercises, got hurt playing sports, or have muscle soreness from an accident, talk to your healthcare provider about trying dry needling.
However, dry-needling is not for everyone. It is not recommended for children under the age of 12 because it can be painful. If you're pregnant, have had surgery, are on blood thinners, or have certain health issues, ask your doctor before considering dry needling.
Benefits of dry needling
Dry needling offers a lot of advantages. The procedure is inexpensive and is considered safe. Dry needling can release your trigger points, providing relief from muscle pain and stiffness. Additionally, this might improve your range of motion and increase your flexibility.
There are small risks associated with dry needling when performed by a qualified medical professional. The most common side effect of dry needling is soreness during and after treatment. It may also cause the following side effects:
- Bruising at or near the insertion site
Serious side effects are rare. Because there is a chance of infection, you should make sure this procedure is carried out by a qualified healthcare provider. If bleeding or shortness of breath occur, notify your healthcare provider or call 911 immediately.
The duration of a dry needling session
Depending on the technique used, a dry needling session can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. During the procedure, your provider will gently tap a sterile needle into the top layer of your skin and discard the guide tube.
Standard dry-needling techniques include:
- Superficial. In order to do this, your healthcare provider will pierce your skin five to ten millimeters below the trigger point.
- Deep. In order to reach the trigger point, your healthcare provider will now pierce your muscle deeply and below the skin.
Depending on the method employed, the needles may stay in the body for 2 seconds to 20 minutes.
Does dry needling therapy work?
Dry needling has been proven to be a valuable tool for pain management, especially in patients with long-term or chronic muscle tightness that does not resolve with stretching or strengthening programs.
Dry needling works better than a sham or no treatment at all for musculoskeletal conditions in terms of pain reduction and improved pain pressure thresholds, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Another study compared dry needling as a first-line treatment to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), topical creams, ice, and brace use. At three months, it was just as effective, and at six months, it was noticeably more effective. This suggests that combining dry needling with appropriate rehabilitation programs can be even more effective than injections or surgery.
If you have been experiencing muscle and tissue pain and are interested in trying dry needling as a treatment option, always discuss it with your healthcare provider first.