Dry Needling: What is it and how does it help?

Jul19th 2019

Dry Needling is a skilled technique performed by a physical therapist using thin filiform needles to penetrate the skin and/ or underlying tissues to affect change in body structures and functions for the evaluation and management of neuromusculoskeletal conditions, pain, movement impairments, and disability. (Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, May 2015)

Active trigger points are tight bands of tissue that are tender with compression. These spots can replicate familiar symptoms or referral patterns. Dry needling goes deep into these areas to elicit a twitch response/ muscle contraction. This helps to release waste products in the area and helps the tissue relax. Dry needling can also help to decrease banding of these tissues, improve blood flow, decrease spontaneous electrical activity, and make changes to the central nervous system. Like manipulation, needling can help provide a reset to the whole system. 

Active trigger points in the neck are often involved with headaches and referral patterns associated with headaches. In combination with other physical therapy treatments, dry needling can help decrease pain and increase range of motion in people with neck pain or headaches. After dry needling it is important to retrain the neuromuscular system with exercise and a home exercise program provided by your PT. 

Dry needling can also be helpful with migraines to help desensitize the nervous system.

This picture demonstrates dry needling of a patient’s L upper trapezius muscle. This muscle is often needled with headaches. The upper trapezius can refer symptoms to the back of the head and in a ram’s horn pattern. It is common to treat both sides and electrical stimulation may be used.

Written by Rachel Maass, PT, DPT.