What is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling is the use of a small, solid filament needle into a muscle that is dysfunctional in order to restore normal muscle length and function. When a tissue is damaged, a number of detrimental effects occur including inflammation, decreased muscle length, poor muscle coordination, and decreased strength. There are many treatments to address damaged muscles and tendons but dry needling can directly engage the muscle fiber resulting in dramatic changes.

The name dry needling refers to the fact that no fluid is being injected into the tissue.  In fact because no foreign substance is being injected the needle is solid as opposed to hollow.  The solid needle provides significant comfort to the patient.  Many patient do not feel any discomfort with the treatment.

Dry Needling is among the most exciting treatments for musculoskeletal injuries.  This technique is helping keep athletes and weekend warriors at their peak performance.

Check out this video from our colleagues in Washington using dry needling!


Is Dry Needling like Acupuncture?

No. The only similarity is the tool that is used (solid thin filament needles). Dry needling is based on Western medical research and principles while acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Acupuncture tends to be a more superficial treatment that focuses on restoring energy to the body. Dry needling treats the neuromuscular system affecting muscle tightness, joint mobility, and symptoms of pain and irritation. Dry needling and accupuncture are completely different.

Mechanical Effects

  • DN may mechanically disrupt a dysfunctional motor end plate
  • DN results in a Local Twitch Response (LTR)
  • The LTR results in an alteration in muscle fiber length, as well as, having an inhibitory effect on antagonist muscles

Neurophysiological Effects

  • Baldry (2001) suggests that Dry Needling techniques stimulate A-nerve fibers (group III) for as long as 72 hours post treatment
  • Prolonged stimulation of the sensory afferent A-fibers may activate the enkephalinergic inhibitory dorsal horn interneurons, which implies that Dry Needling causes opiod mediated pain suppression
  • Another possible mechanism of Dry Needling is the activation of descending inhibitory systems which would block noxious stimulus in the dorsal horn
  • The LTR may also utilize the excessive ACh in the tissue which preveiously was triggering increased firing of localized fibers

Chemical Effects

  • Studies by Shah and colleagues (2001) demonstrated increased levels of various chemicals at sensitized motor end plates such as: Bradykinin, Substance P and CGRP (regulator of Calcium and Phosphate balance).  These chemicals were reduced immediately post a LTR.
  • CGRP enhances the release of ACh from nerve terminals, which results in increased ACh receptors at the neuromuscular junction
  • Needle penetration will cause micro-trauma and micro bleeding (localized inflammation) and hence the introduction of PDGF (platelet-derived growth factor) into the area to help promote healing

What are Some Conditions Treated with Dry Needling?

  • Neck/Back Pain
  • Tendonitis/Bursitis
  • Headache
  • Patellofemoral Syndrome
  • Tennis Elbow (epicondylitis)
  • Tight shoulders
  • Muscle strains
  • Arthritis
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Sports injuries
  • Chronic pain
  • Athlete performance