What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a treatment technique in which small filament type needles are inserted into painful knots in muscles, tendons, ligaments, or near nerves (known as myofascial trigger points) in order to stimulate a healing response with the goal of permanently reducing pain and dysfunction. The purpose of dry needling is to clear out and reduce the number of trigger points within a muscle in order to decrease localized inflammation, decrease pain, improve blood flow, flexibility, range of motion, function, and overall quality of life.


Will it hurt? What does it feel like?

This is a tough question to answer because just like pain in general, it is very relative. I always encourage my patients to give me feedback throughout the dry needling process because it is different for everyone. Most of the time, you do not feel the needle as it is inserted into the skin. Upon achieving a muscle twitch in the trigger point, it is common to feel a dull ache/pinch or reproduction of your symptoms. Some people do not even flinch as I am clearing out trigger points with the needle. Other people are much more vocal throughout the process, stating more intense discomfort, referred pain, pinching, or ache. Despite the soreness with the process, most people find that the benefits and relief of their symptoms outweigh the temporary discomfort. I am always monitoring a patient’s response to the procedure and if pain levels are high, we stop and reassess or try a different insertion point. Different regions of the body can differ as well in regards to sensitivity, and generally an area of pain or dysfunction has the potential to be a little more uncomfortable. The discomfort is temporary and the benefits are often worth giving the treatment a try.


Is dry needling like acupuncture?

This is a very common question. The answer is NO; it is not like acupuncture. The only similarity is the type of needle that we use for the procedure. We use 20 to 30 gauge solid microfilament needles aka, very, very tiny. Other than the type of needle, the entire process and purpose of dry needling is different than acupuncture. Dry needling targets trigger points; therefore the needle is inserted directly into the muscle. Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine and has been around for over 2000 years, so clearly has been beneficial for treating a multitude of conditions. Acupuncture targets improving total body health and wellness by restoring the body’s energy flow (“Qi” or “Chi”). Acupuncturists use the needles to target acupuncture points based on a Meridian Map of the body’s systems to improve energy flow and promote healing.


Will I be sore afterwards?

It is very common to have some general soreness following a dry needling treatment, however this soreness should not last more than 24-48 hours. It is comparable to soreness in the muscle that you may experience after a workout. The muscle will sometimes feel stiff or tight, however this feeling will only be temporary. The best thing to do after dry needling is to move, stretch frequently, and re-educate the muscles with the prescribed stretches or exercises. Ice or heat afterwards can also sometimes relieve some of the post-needling soreness. Very often, patients will experience an immediate improvement in flexibility and a decrease in pain.


Is it going to bleed?

The answer is maybe. The needle that we use is so fine that usually there will not be blood. However, sometimes it is possible that we hit a superficial capillary or blood vessel in the process, and then there could be some brief bleeding. After removing the needle, we apply pressure to the skin and if there is blood then it will subside within a few seconds. We do always want to know if you are taking any type of blood thinner so that we can take extra precautions.


How do I know if dry needling would be beneficial for me?

After an evaluation with one of the physical therapists, it may be recommended that you try dry needling. During an evaluation or routine treatment we will often “poke around” to assess how your muscles feel. We are very good at directing our fingers to commonly tender spots in your muscles, and can find trigger points that may be contributing to your pain or dysfunction. A trigger point feels like a “knot” in the muscle. I will sometimes refer to these knots as speed bumps. If we find a trigger point that is tender and could be resulting in your pain, then we may suggest trying dry needling. If you are not ready to undergo the needle poke, we can suggest slightly less uncomfortable or invasive ways to self-release the trigger points. We can use other tools or techniques using our hands to try and get the trigger point to release.


How do I schedule an appointment for dry needling?

If your therapist has recommended dry needling or you have had dry needling in the past and want to schedule an appointment, then you just need to ask to be scheduled with one of the certified therapists at the clinic. At this time, Dr. Kelly Shannon, DPT, CMTPT and Dr. Brad Eyler, DPT, CMTPT are certified to perform dry needling. If you are a current patient, we will perform the treatment on the same day as one of your routine visits. If not a current patient, then we do offer a self-pay option for dry needling. Call the office at 301-662-8541 to request an appointment, no referral is needed.  


About the Author

Kelly Shannon is a Physical Therapist at Frederick Sport and Spine Clinics who is certified in Dry Needling and has many other areas of interest. She has special training in Running Rehabilitation, which allows her to analyze running technique to improve performance and reduce risk of injury.