Dry Needling: What does it benefit?

What is dry needling?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), dry needling is defined as a skilled intervention that uses a thin filiform needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate underlying myofascial trigger points, muscular, and connective tissues for the management of neuromusculoskeletal pain and movement impairments. Dry Needling is a technique used to treat dysfunctions in skeletal muscle, fascia, and connective tissue, and, diminish persistent peripheral nociceptive input, and reduce or restore impairments of body structure and function leading to improved activity and participation (1).

In short, dry needling is technique used by a trained clinician to desensitize irritable tissues, restore ROM, improve function, and induce an environment for tissue healing. Dry needling can also be paired with electrical stimulation for activation of weak muscles and/or pain relief. 

Common conditions treated with dry needling:

  • Sport related overuse injuries
  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Low back pain
  • Muscle strains 
  • Epicondylitis (tennis or golfer’s elbow)
  • Shin splints
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Shoulder impingement
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Patellar tendinitis
  • Achilles’ tendinopathy
  • Plantar fasciitis

Is dry needling the same as acupuncture?

Although dry needling and acupuncture utilize the same needle, the treatment approaches vary significantly.  Dry needling utilizes a Western medicine focused on treated musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction along common referral patterns. Acupuncture, on the other hand, utilizes an Eastern medicine approach to normalize the body’s energy fields or “Chi” along the pathways connecting acupuncture points called meridians.

What to expect during a session of dry needling?

Once you and your therapist have decided to utilize dry needling treatment, your therapist will position you comfortably to allow for adequate exposure of the treatment area.  They will then clean the area with a sanitizing agent and insert the needle.  They may choose to gently move the needle in and out of the muscle to elicit a “twitch response” in the muscle.  The twitch response often feels like a cramp. It is a positive result allowing for physiological changes within the muscle.  You may also experience referral or reproduction of your familiar pain. Depending on the condition being treated, your clinician may choose to insert multiple needles and/or combine treatment with electrical stimulation to potentiate the effects of the treatment. 

How many sessions of dry needling will you need?

While every individual and situation is different, most people will experience significant relief within the first few sessions of dry needling.  While it is a beneficial technique to reduce pain and restore function, it is important to note that treatment is most effective when combined with other physical therapy treatment including progressive exercise. 

What are the side effects of dry needling?

The most common symptoms following dry needling include muscle soreness, fatigue, and mild bruising. While infection is possible, it is rare as sterile needles are used in treatment and our clinicians are careful to properly sanitize the treatment area.  

This article was written by Dr. Nick Bechtold. Nick received his doctorate of physical therapy from the University of Montana and has been working in Washington and Alaska since graduation in 2015. He and his wife, also a physical therapist, have recently relocated to Bozeman and currently use Dry Needling as part of an all encompassing treatment plan with their patients. APRS PT has two locations in Bozeman and has 6 therapists that utilize Dry Needling for many of their patients.

  1. APTA. “Description of Dry Needling in Clinical Practice: An Educational Resource Paper.” Feb. 2013, http://www.apta.org/StateIssues/DryNeedling/ClinicalPracticeResourcePaper/.