Dry Needling – Who, What, Why

“You’re a miracle worker.” As a physical therapist, those are the sweetest words you could hear, and thanks to dry needling, many physical therapists at Hulst Jepsen Physical Therapy are in a position to bring that level of pain relief to our patients. When I began my physical therapy (PT) career, I was a skeptic of dry needling; partly due to my limited knowledge of the subject; and partly due to my aversion to needles! Here is what I’ve learned, and why dry needling is now one of the favorite tools that I have in my “PT toolbox.”

What Is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a treatment designed to decrease muscle tension and restore normal function to a patient who has pain (acute and chronic). Dry needling gets its name because no liquid is extracted from, or injected into the target tissue. People often compare it to acupuncture because dry needling uses the same thin needles, but acupuncture is an Eastern medicine technique that focuses on hundreds of ‘acupuncture points’ and meridian lines throughout the body. Dry needling is used to target trigger points in tight muscles that are leading to an increase in a patient’s pain, and a dysfunction in movement patterns.

How Does It Work?
When a dry needle is inserted into a muscle, it creates micro-damage that your body must repair. It does this through increasing blood flow to the area. Your body also releases natural anti-inflammatories to help decrease pain. Many physical therapists use an electrical stimulation unit (e-stim unit) to help reset the connection between your nerves and muscles while also sending sensory information back to the central nervous system.

Who Should Consider Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a helpful treatment technique for many different injuries from neck pain and chronic migraines to someone who is having pain with running. Patients who tend to see improvements in symptoms with dry needling often have tight muscles that don’t improve (or temporarily improve) with stretching and massage techniques. If pressing on a muscle reproduces your pain, you might be a candidate for dry needling!

What to Expect with a Treatment?

  • Evaluation:
    • Your clinician will determine if you’re a candidate for dry needling by observing your movement patterns and feeling for tight muscles.
    • They will feel for tight muscles and ‘knots,’ that reproduce your symptoms.
  • What it feels like:
    • When the needle is inserted, you will feel a sharp poke, followed by a deep aching sensation. The needling is approximately 1/5th the diameter of a standard medical needle, however, many people report feeling nothing at all.
    • Your muscle may twitch when the needle is inserted, this is actually a good thing
    • After the needle is inserted, many therapists will use an electrical stimulation unit to get the muscles to contract involuntarily. When the e-stim unit is turned on many people report feeling a tapping or squeezing sensation.
  • When will I get better?
    • Once the treatment is completed, you may be sore for a day or two before noticing an improvement in symptoms (typically after 24-48 hours).
  • How long will the results last for?
    • Symptom improvements are expected to be longer lasting than other manual techniques, for example, massage and chiropractic adjustments. The range is generally 1 week to indefinitely.

Common Fears

  • What if they hit a nerve?
    • Physical therapists are trained thoroughly in human anatomy and know the location of all the nerves in the body so they can safely avoid this from happening.
  • What if it increases my symptoms?
    • Some soreness is expected for 24 hours, but you should not expect to be sore for more than a few days.
  • What if I want to stop halfway through?
    • Tell your clinician you would like to stop at any point, and they will. There is no shame in advocating for yourself, and your comfort levels.

Why Should I Consider Dry Needling?
Dry needling may be a valuable tool for speeding up your recovery time and allowing you to regain normal function. Dry needling is by no means an end-all-be-all treatment. Even after receiving the needling, you will likely need to take part in a strengthening program to fix the core issue (poor posture, joint instability, movement dysfunctions, etc.).

Although dry needling is not for everyone, it can be a life-changing treatment when properly selected by a trained clinician. If you find yourself in the position to give dry needling a shot or want more information, we at Hulst Jepsen Physical Therapy are here to help. Come on into any of our convenient locations or call 616.256.8679 to learn how physical therapy can help get you back to doing the activities that you love.

For more information more to request an appointment, visit https://www.hjphysicaltherapy.com/request-appointment/

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Ryan Camp, DPT