Dry needling is a form of therapy performed by a specially trained physical therapist who inserts fine needles into myofascial trigger points (painful knots in muscles), tendons, ligaments or near nerves. Dry needling stimulates a healing response in musculoskeletal conditions that may be causing pain.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a trigger point?
A muscle trigger point is a highly-localized, hyper-irritable spot in a tight band of skeletal muscle fibers. These muscle trigger points are located throughout the human body and play a role in producing and sustaining feelings of pain and discomfort. Trigger points develop in muscle for various reasons including pain, inflammation or tissue injury.
How does dry needling work?
The mechanical stimulation of the muscle by the inserted needle produces a local twitch response from muscle fibers. This dramatically reduces the muscle activity, resulting in relaxation and a decrease in pain and dysfunction. The decrease in pain is related to the removal of muscular compression on joint, nerve and vascular tissue. Studies have also shown that inserting needles into trigger points cause biochemical changes which alleviate pain. This is often a positive sign confirming the trigger point as being the cause of the pain.
Who is a candidate for dry needling?
Anyone with specific joint pain, muscle pain and/or tendon pain could benefit from dry needling. Regardless of how long symptoms have been present, neck pain, shoulder impingement, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis or low back pain are common conditions treated with dry needling.
Is dry needling painful?
Most patients describe treatment as uncomfortable but not painful. The local twitch response can cause a brief painful reaction. It is important to remember that a therapeutic effect only occurs by eliciting the local twitch response and therefore a necessary reaction. There may also be some soreness in the area that was treated immediately following, and, occasionally, soreness develops a few hours later or the next day. A patient may feel tired, nauseous, emotional or distressed for an hour or two after treatment. These are all normal responses.
Is dry needling safe?
Drowsiness, tiredness or dizziness occurs in 1-3 percent of patients, and those individuals are advised not to drive. Minor bleeding or bruising occurs about 15-20 percent of the time and is considered normal. Temporary pain follows 60-70 percent of treatments. Fainting may also occur for certain patients, particularly at the first treatment to the head or neck areas. Dry needling is safe, although serious side effects occur in less than 1 per 10,000 treatments. The most common serious side effect is a pneumothorax, which is a collapsed lung due to air leaking inside the chest wall. While rare, nerves or blood vessels may be damaged from dry needling, which can result in pain, numbness or tingling.
Is dry needling effective?
Research supports dry needling improving pain control, reducing muscle tension and accelerating return to active rehabilitation. Typically, positive results are apparent with 2-4 treatment sessions but can vary depending on the cause and duration of symptoms as well as overall health of the patient. Most patients will have dramatic pain relief and improved function after just a few treatments.
Is dry needling covered by insurance?
Insurance may cover dry needling in some instances, but typically it is an out-of-pocket expense. Contact your insurance carrier or call us at (319) 222-2901 (Cedar Falls) or (319) 226-8560 (Waterloo) for pricing details.
What should I do after my treatment?
We highly recommend drinking plenty of water for 24 hours following treatment. This helps avoid or reduce soreness. After dry needling, you may also try light stretching, lightly massaging the area or applying ice to diminish soreness. If these interventions hurt or increase soreness, discontinue immediately. You should also avoid exercise or strenuous activity involving the muscles that have been treated, avoid new physical activities or sports and keep overall activity levels at or below normal levels.
Will dry needling be done at my first appointment?
Typically, we do not use dry needling at the first appointment unless the person's symptoms fit classic "trigger point" criteria. We may introduce a person to dry needling at the initial appointment, educating on the procedure, benefits, risks and side effects and then do the treatment at subsequent visits.
Can I come in just for a dry needling appointment?
We recommend dry needling as part of a comprehensive physical therapy treatment program. Your personalized therapy program will still integrate traditional therapy methods including manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, endurance training, stabilization and posture training.
Is dry needling the same as acupuncture?
No. Although dry needling uses the same needles as acupuncture, it is not the same technique. Functional dry needling uses an anatomical approach to evaluate the bones, joints, connective tissue and muscle to guide where the needle is placed.