What's this dry needling I keep hearing about?

Dry Needling

Written by: Dade Smith, DPT

“I had pain in my lower back. I came in and was told about dry needling, and I was a bit hesitant. It was explained in great detail and that was very reassuring. I was expecting pain, but when we started I didn’t feel anything. It was great! Afterward, I was a bit tired, but after a few sessions, I was energized and felt I had more energy and less pain. I have been recommending dry needling to everyone. It has honestly been a Godsend. Thanks!” - Mary M., LPPT dry needling patient

Over the past several years there has been an insurgence in a treatment technique that is foreign to many patients across the country – dry needling. As a physical therapist, when I introduce the treatment technique of dry needling I am often met with a concerned question of, “Wait! You want to do what!?” or, “So you do acupuncture?” I welcome the questions because it gives me an opportunity to educate on dry needling and the outcomes.  Once you’ve read up on dry needling check out our video to get a glimpse of it!

How long has dry needling been around?

Dry needling finds its origins as far back as the early 1900s from Sir William Gower, MD who defined the term fibrositis. The evolution of trigger points was progressed by Arthur Steindler in the 1930s and this was further progressed by Drs. Travell and Simons in the 1940s. The practice of “wet needling” evolved through the middle part of the 20th century. In the 1980’s Drs. Travell and Simons presented their work in the first edition of Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. This was refined through the ’80s and ’90s by Chan Gunn, MD through his work with The Treatment of Chronic Pain: Intramuscular Myofascial Pain of Radiculopathic Origin. Throughout the 20th century what we now know as dry needling was developing.

What is dry needling?

Through the evolution of the technique, several terms have developed to describe the umbrella term “dry needling.” Commonly you will hear this treatment referred to as Trigger Point Dry Needling, Functional Dry Needling, Intramuscular Manual Therapy, or Intramuscular Stimulation. In theory, these terms are synonymous.

To put it simply, dry needling uses a thin solid needle to stimulate muscular and connective tissue that may be attributing to functional limitations with movement and/or pain.

How does dry needling work?

Trigger Point Dry Needling is a technique that the therapists at Lone Peak Physical Therapy utilize for the treatment of muscular tightness or spasms that may be attributing to functional limitations with movement and pain. These muscular spasms may be the result of an acute injury or chronic pain. This muscular tightness can irritate the nerves exiting the spine and therefore cause the muscles to protect the body by contracting. This can lead to dysfunctions that are peripheral to the spine and affect the appendages. Trigger point dry needling utilizes thin filiform needles to insert into the affected muscular to stimulate the muscle and release the muscle allowing the muscle to have increased flexibility and decreased pain. This then allows the muscle to heal due to the physiologic effects following the needling of increased oxygen and blood to the area.

Is it acupuncture?

This is probably the most asked question that we receive due to the public’s knowledge and familiarity with acupuncture. So, is dry needling acupuncture? NO. The similarity of the two treatment techniques begins and ends with the tool used. Both treatments utilize a solid filament needle, however, the method of use and evaluative tools used by a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Acupuncturist and a Physical therapist differ. Within TCM acupuncture the evaluation often includes tongue and pulse evaluations. The information obtained by these practitioners guides the practitioner to insert needles into specific meridians, or channels of the body to affect the body's “Qi” with the overall goal of restoring the normal flow of the life force.  This is vastly different than how a physical therapist utilizes the needle. At Lone Peak Physical Therapy we utilize the evaluation to assess the pain patterns, posture, movement, and function. These findings aid in our decision-making in determining if one is a candidate for needling and if so where to utilize the treatment to be most effective. It must be noted that as physical therapists we do appreciate and utilize the skills and knowledge of acupuncturists to achieve the ultimate goal for outpatients: to Live Better!

If you’re curious about dry needling and would like to learn more or set up an appointment, reach out to us