What is Dry Needling?


What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a method utilized by Chiropractors and various healthcare specialists to address musculoskeletal discomfort and movement challenges. It’s commonly integrated into a comprehensive pain relief strategy, which might encompass Chiropractic adjustments, Craniosacral Therapy, exercise, stretching, manual therapy, among other modalities. During this procedure, Dr. Khalsa introduces fine needles (akin to Acupuncture needles) into the skin to target deep-seated myofascial trigger points.

The term “myofascial” combines “myo” denoting “muscle” and fascia, which is the delicate tissue encasing your muscles. Trigger points are tense, sensitive regions within muscles. These areas can be painful upon touch. A trigger point might be proximate to where you experience pain, but frequently, they’re the root of referred pain, which is pain perceived in a different body part.

Dr. Khalsa employs needles to mitigate these trigger points. The application of dry needling to muscles and tissues can diminish stiffness, boost blood circulation, and alleviate both localized and referred pain. The needles used are solid and devoid of medication, hence the term “dry” needling. Alternative designations for this technique include trigger point dry needling and intramuscular stimulation.

How does dry needling work?

Muscles, when overstrained, can enter an energy deficit, leading to insufficient blood flow. This lack of blood means the muscle doesn’t receive the essential oxygen and nutrients to return to its relaxed state. As a result, the vicinity around your trigger point becomes more acidic, sensitizing the nerves and inducing pain.

Using a needle to stimulate a trigger point aids in restoring regular blood flow, cleansing the region, and alleviating tension. The sensation from the needle can also activate nerve fibers, prompting the brain to produce endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

After identifying a trigger point, the therapist will insert a needle directly into it, occasionally adjusting its position to elicit a local twitch response — a brief muscle spasm. This response can indicate a positive muscle reaction. Some individuals notice a reduction in pain and enhanced mobility soon after a session, while others might need multiple sessions.

Does dry needling hurt?

Since trigger points are generally tender, you might feel some discomfort as the practitioner identifies the point. The needling process can also cause varying levels of discomfort. Some might not feel the needle’s entry due to its thinness, while others might experience a slight prick. The needle’s presence in the trigger point can be painful and might induce a twitching sensation. Post-treatment, there might be some stiffness or soreness around the insertion area, but it’s beneficial to continue moving and stretching.

What does dry needling do?

Dry needling can potentially alleviate pain and enhance your movement range. It can be used to treat various conditions, including:

  • Joint problems.
  • Disk complications.
  • Tendinitis.
  • Migraine and tension-related headaches.
  • Jaw and oral issues, such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.
  • Whiplash.
  • Repetitive strain conditions, like carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Spinal complications.
  • Pelvic discomfort.
  • Nightly cramps.
  • Phantom limb discomfort.
  • Postherpetic neuralgia, a shingles complication.

Who shouldn’t get dry needling treatments?

Certain individuals are advised against undergoing dry needling. The procedure is not recommended for children below 12 years due to potential pain. Both the child and parent must give their consent, and it’s wise to explore other less invasive alternatives first. Other individuals who should discuss with their doctor before opting for dry needling include those who:

  • Are expecting.
  • Cannot comprehend the treatment.
  • Have an intense fear of needles (trypanophobia).
  • Possess weakened immune systems.
  • Have recently undergone surgery.
  • Are on anticoagulants.


What happens before a dry needling treatment?

Prior to any dry needling session, your provider will review your medical history and conduct a physical examination. They’ll assess if dry needling is suitable for you. If deemed appropriate, they’ll elucidate the treatment procedure and address any queries.

On your treatment day, wear comfortable, loose attire that allows easy access to the treatment area. If needed, your provider will offer a gown or covering.

You’ll be guided to a private examination room or a partitioned section of a larger space. You’ll adjust your attire accordingly, and they’ll position you aptly for the treatment.

What happens during a dry needling treatment?

Initially, your provider will sanitize the treatment area and ready the needle. Needles are always single-use, sterile, and disposable. They’ll then palpate the area to locate the trigger point. Using a guide tube, they’ll position the needle over the area, ensuring precision.

Your provider will gently tap the needle into the skin’s top layer and discard the guide tube. Techniques may vary, but common ones include superficial and deep needling.

The needle’s duration in place can range from a few seconds to 20 minutes, depending on the technique. Your provider may also employ the pistoning technique, involving rapid needle movement through the tissue.

The number of needles used depends on your response and condition. During the procedure, muscle soreness or twitching is normal and indicates a positive response.

What happens after a dry needling procedure?

Post-treatment, your provider will extract the needle, inspect your skin for reactions, and dispose of the needle safely.

You’ll be advised to rise slowly. If you feel dizzy, you’ll be asked to sit and rest. Post-treatment hydration is crucial. Some muscle soreness is normal and can last up to 36 hours. Bruising might also appear but typically fades within a week.


What are the benefits of dry needling?

Dry needling offers numerous advantages as part of a holistic treatment plan. It’s cost-effective, generally safe, and has a low complication risk when done by a trained professional. Studies indicate that dry needling can release trigger points, potentially reducing muscle pain and stiffness, and enhancing flexibility and movement range.

What are the potential side effects of dry needling?

The most prevalent side effect is soreness during and post-treatment. Other minor side effects might include stiffness, bruising, fainting, and fatigue. Infection is a risk, so ensure your provider is adequately trained.

Severe side effects are rare but crucial to note. If you experience excessive bleeding, shortness of breath, or suspect a collapsed lung, seek medical attention immediately.


Dry needling vs. acupuncture — what’s the difference?

While both dry needling and acupuncture involve skin penetration with needles, they differ fundamentally. Dry needling is rooted in Western medicine, focusing on pain patterns, posture, and orthopedic testing, while acupuncture, performed by licensed acupuncturists, is based on Eastern medicine. Acupuncture addresses not only musculoskeletal pain but other bodily systems, whereas dry needling targets muscle tissue with the aim of pain reduction and movement improvement.

Is dry needling available in every state?

Dry needling is approved in 37 states and New Mexico, D.C.

Dry needling is a proven, minimally invasive technique beneficial for specific musculoskeletal conditions. Many have found it transformative in enhancing their well-being. However, always consult with your healthcare provider before opting for the treatment. While deemed safe, it’s invasive, and more conservative treatments might be recommended initially.


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