Dry needling is a modern, science-based intervention for the treatment of pain and dysfunction in musculoskeletal conditions such as shin splints, knee pain and osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis, IT band and SI joint pain, shoulder pain, and tendonitis.
Dry needling is a form of therapy in which fine "dry" needles, without medication or injection, are inserted into myofascial trigger points in tendons, ligaments, or near nerves in order to stimulate a healing response in painful musculoskeletal conditions. A trigger point is a taut band of skeletal muscle located within a larger muscle group. Trigger points can be tender to the touch, and touching a trigger point may cause pain to other parts of the body.
The needles used in dry needling are thin filiform needles that penetrate the skin and stimulate a healing response in underlying myofascial trigger points and muscular and connective tissues. The needles allow a physical therapist to target tissues that are not manually palpable. The needles are so thin that many times you do not feel them, but in certain areas where there is not as much cushion you may feel the needles more. Patients describe it as a pin prick when they feel them. Treatments are typically done 1-2 times per week to minimize soreness. Most patients notice a difference in pain with just a few sessions.
Physical therapists use dry needling with the goal of releasing or inactivating trigger points to relieve pain or improve range of motion. Research supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.
Dry needling is not acupuncture, a practice based on traditional Chinese medicine and performed by acupuncturists. Dry needling is a part of modern Western medicine principles, and supported by research. Other terms commonly used to describe dry needling include trigger point dry needling and intramuscular manual therapy.
As part of their education, physical therapists are well educated in anatomy and therapeutic treatment of the body. Physical therapists who perform dry needling supplement that knowledge by obtaining specific postgraduate education and training. In cases when dry needling is used by physical therapists, it is typically 1 technique that's part of a larger treatment plan.