Dry needling is an alternative therapy much like acupuncture, though they don’t share the same philosophy. An invasive procedure, dry needling involves the insertion of thin filiform needles into muscular trigger points: the hyper-irritated tissue from which the pain originates.
The goal of dry needling is to create a local twitch response within the trigger point, which signals that the point is loosening. Practitioners elicit this response by using the needle to manipulate and twist the muscle fibers.
Insertion of the needle usually isn’t painful, but the placement of the needle in the muscle, which causes the twitch, can be uncomfortable if the muscle is sensitive and shortened, or if it has active trigger points. After a dry needling session, patients may experience temporary muscle soreness and fatigue, as well as mild skin bruising.
This treatment can be used to reduce pain and muscle tension, and improve range of motion. Most patients see improvement within two to four sessions, but the number of sessions can vary depending on the cause and severity of the pain, patient health, and the practitioner’s level of experience.
Dry needling is practiced by many physical therapists (and some athletic trainers), though a few states restrict physical therapists from penetrating the skin or practicing dry needling specifically.