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Dry needling, also called trigger point dry needling or myofascial trigger point dry needling. It is done by physical therapists (PTs) to treat myofascial pain. The word “myofascial” is made up of the roots “myo” (which refers to muscle) and “fascia” (which refers to the tissue that connects muscle).

Muscles sometimes develop knotted areas called trigger points. These trigger points are highly sensitive and can be painful when touched. They are also often the cause of referred pain (or pain that affects another part of the body). Clinicians push thin solid needles through the skin into trigger points. The needles are used to stimulate the tissue, not to inject medication.

Many of you have either had acupuncture, know someone who has had acupuncture, or even just heard of it. However, do you know anyone that has had dry needling done to them, or even heard about dry needling? If not, hopefully this will help you understand a little bit more about the differences between acupuncture and dry needling, and the purposes of dry needling.

What are the differences between acupuncture and dry needling?

Acupuncture has been a practice that has been common in North America for many years, and in China for thousands of years. Acupuncture is based on the belief that your body has qi (or energy) that gives the power or force for living things. When acupuncture is employed, it is meant to move this energy and re-align the energy in the body by targeting specific points in the body.

Dry needling is similar to acupuncture in the aspect that it uses needles that are similar in size. However, a main difference between acupuncture and dry needling is that dry needling focuses on finding trigger points to relieve pain and to help with an increase range of motion by helping the soft tissue to relax. The needle is usually placed soft tissue and can have electrodes placed on the ends of the needles, or the needle can just be moved in and out to reduce the tension in the muscle or soft tissue. While acupuncture is also based on the idea of moving qi, dry needling is based on evidence to treat conditions that the person is experiencing.

What areas of the body can dry needling be used?

Dry needling can be performed on many areas of the body. Some of those areas include the shoulder, neck, ankle, back, legs, arms, and even the hip. While dry needling is very safe, it is important to realize that the needles could cause damage if placed in the wrong areas or going to deep. One example of this would be with the lungs. If the physical therapist that is administering the dry needling is doing an area in the back near the lungs, if they accidentally go too deep and puncture the lung, which could bring about a lot of complications. However, ultimately, through safe practice, dry needling is a safe and effective method for treating pain.

Who can benefit from dry needling?

I had a patient who came in with Frozen Shoulder that had difficulty moving their shoulder. After 5 treatments of dry needling they had full movement in their shoulder and pain was a 0/10. Patient’s with this condition usually suffer for months with stiffness and lack of movement in the frozen shoulder. Dry needling can benefit people in many ways.

As mentioned, there are a lot of people that can benefit from dry needling. So many people are able to find relief from the pain that they are experiencing whether it is tendonitis, disk problems, joint problems, or even just muscle tightness. However, there are some people that should not have dry needling performed on them. These people include women that are pregnant, people who are on blood thinners, those who have recently undergone surgery, or even those that are really afraid of needles. In general, anyone who is considering having a dry needling treatment should consult their doctor beforehand.

Pick PT’s Physical Therapists are certified to perform dry needling, so come in and see them to find out if you would be a good candidate for dry needling and to learn how you could benefit from it.