Dry needling is a treatment that involves a very thin needle being pushed through the skin in order to stimulate a trigger point. This form of alternative therapy is used to release tight muscle bands that are associated with trigger point, or hard “knots” within a muscle that can cause pain over a large area. Sometimes these trigger points (or even muscle spasms) can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks because there is pain every time the area is touched, and the pain can even radiate to nearby areas of the body.
While wet needling involves hollow-bore hypodermic needles that deliver corticosteroids, anesthetics, sclerosants and other agents, dry needling involves of the insertion of a needle without the use of injection into muscles, ligaments, tendons, subcutaneous fascia and scar tissue. Dry needling is also referred to as trigger point dry needling (TDN) and intramuscular manual therapy.
Dry needling is also different than acupuncture, which is intended to unblock energy meridians and help create balance within the bodily system. While acupuncture focuses on addressing the flow of energy around the body and bodily organs, dry needling focuses on stimulating a specific trigger point that is leading to pain and disability.
In a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, researchers analyzed the results of the best clinical studies that have been conducted thus far to determine whether or not dry needling helps to reduce neck and arm pain, both common areas for trigger point development. The researchers found that dry needling can be an effective means of pain relief when dealing with myofascial pain syndrome, or the presence of painful trigger points and muscles. When this technique is used by a physical therapist, it serves as a beneficial treatment, especially when used in combination with other techniques such as exercise. (1a)
Myofascial trigger points are a common type of pain. The word mayofascial means muscle tissue (myo) and the connective tissue in and around it (fascial). These trigger points are usually the result of a muscle injury, such as common running injuries or repetitive strain. “From a pain science perspective, trigger points are constant sources of peripheral nociceptive input leading to peripheral and central sensitization,” according to a study in the Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy. (1b)