Dry Needling

What is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling is a general term for a therapeutic treatment procedure that involves multiple advances of a filament needle into the muscle or connective tissue in the area of the body which produces pain and typically contains a ‘Trigger Point’. There is no injected solution or medicine, and typically the needle which is used is very thin. Most patients will not even feel the needle penetrate the skin, but once it has and is advanced into the muscle or painful region, the feeling of discomfort can vary drastically from patient to patient. Dry Needling demonstrated on the ankle: symptoms of Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis Usually a healthy muscle feels very little discomfort with insertion of the needle; however, if the muscle is sensitive and shortened or has active trigger points within it, the subject may feel a sensation much like a muscle cramp—which is often referred to as a ‘twitch response’. The twitch response also has a biochemical characteristic to it which likely affects the reaction of the muscle, symptoms, and response of the tissue. The patient may only feel the cramping sensation locally or they may feel a referral of pain or similar symptoms for which they are seeking treatment. A reproduction of their pain can be a helpful diagnostic indicator of the cause of the patient’s symptoms. Patients soon learn to recognize and even welcome this sensation as it results in deactivating the trigger point, thereby reducing pain and restoring normal length and function of the involved muscle. Typically positive results are apparent within 2-4 treatment sessions but can vary depending on the cause and duration of the symptoms, overall health of the patient, and experience level of the practitioner.      

      Dry Needling demonstrated on the leg: symptoms of hamstring strain, calf strain or sciatica

Dry needling is an effective treatment for acute and chronic pain, rehabilitation from injury, and even pain and injury prevention, with very few side effects. This technique is unequaled in finding and eliminating neuromuscular dysfunction that leads to pain and functional deficits.

Dry Needling Article (pdf) from the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy      


Why use Dry Needling?

Dry needling allows the therapist to reach very specific parts of the muscle and deeper layers of the tissues that are not accessible by hand. Dry needling is appropriate for acute or chronic injuries; however, it is always an adjunct to other facets of Physical Therapy which include joint and soft tissue mobilization/manipulation and corrective exercise.


Who facilities Dry Needling?

Dry needling is facilitated by our physical therapists that have completed the necessary coursework and training to practice dry needling treatment.


How is it different than acupuncture?

Acupuncture is founded on Traditional Chinese Medicine whereas dry needling is based on Western anatomical and physiological principles. Dry needling is not new, however; it has been around for approximately 40 years. It is founded by scientific concepts and it continues to evolve using the latest research.


Dry Needling demonstrated on the back: symptoms of lower back pain, using electric stimulation     

How will I feel during Dry Needling?

Each patient describes the processes of being needled differently. Typically, patients report not feeling the needle actually penetrate the skin. To most, the treatment is not painful, but you will most likely feel a deep cramping of the muscle that the needle was inserted into along with some involuntary muscle jumps/twitches. This is called the local twitch response (LTR) and means that we are positively affecting the desired tissue.

How will I feel after a session of Dry Needling?
Note: not all of these reactions will occur and not to all people

  • You may feel sore immediately after treatment in the area of the body you were treated, this is normal, but does not always occur. It can also take a few hours or the next day before you feel soreness. The soreness may vary depending on the area of the body that was treated. The degree and duration of soreness varies person to person, but typically does not last more than 24-48 hours. The soreness should feel similar to the way your muscles feel after a massage or after you had an intense workout at the gym. If soreness continues beyond this please contact your provider. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, driving immediately after dry needling is not necessarily recommended.
  • It is not uncommon to have bruising after treatment; some areas are more likely to bruise than others. Large bruising rarely occurs, but can vary greatly from person to person. If bruising does occur, you can use ice to help decrease the bruising. It is not recommended to apply heat to bruising, as it will likely make the bruising worse.
  • It is common to feel tired, nauseous, emotional, giggly or “loopy” and/or somewhat “out of it” after treatment. This is a normal response that can last up to an hour or two after treatment.
  • Infrequently, there are times when treatment may actually make your typical symptoms worse in the short term. If this occurs, it will likely not last more than 24 hours and then improve. If the symptom worsening continues past the 24-48 hour window, keep note of it, as this is helpful information and your provider will adjust your treatment based on your report, if needed. This does not mean, however, that dry needling cannot help your condition.

      Dry Needling demonstrated on the jaw: symptoms of TMJ dysfunction, tempero-mandibular dysfunction or headaches

What should I do after treatment, what can I do, and what should I avoid?

  • It is highly recommended that you increase your water intake for the next 24 hours after treatment to help avoid soreness.
  • Many patients find that soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salt or using magnesium oil, helps to combat post treatment soreness.
  • You are welcome to apply ice or heat to the areas treated or that may be sore depending on which you feel to be more therapeutic. *Remember do not place heat on bruises or acutely inflamed areas. If your muscles just feel stiff but are not bruised or irritated, then heat is useful.
  • Light activity and stretching improves circulation and muscle extensibility and will likely help to reduce soreness.
  • It is okay to resume regular activities or even workout, but vigorous exercise or activity is not recommended.
  • The use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medication such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen/Motrin/Advil, Aspirin, etc. is also useful if taken as recommended and if it does not interfere with any other medical conditions you may have or interfere with any other medications prescribed to you by your physician.


Who do I contact if I have questions?

If you have any questions, please call the UHC Physical Therapy Department at 706-542-8634. If you need medical attention, please schedule an appointment with your assigned clinic or, in an emergency, call 911.