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Dry Needling Therapy

Dry needling is a specific treatment technique that uses a solid filament needle to treat muscle trigger points which are creating pain and discomfort. The filament needle is inserted into the skin and muscle directly at a myofascial trigger point. Physical therapists utilize trigger point dry needling in the treatment of myofascial pain.

A muscle trigger point is a highly localized, hyper-irritable spot in a palpable, taut band of skeletal muscle fibers. These muscle trigger points - which are located throughout the human body - play a role in producing and sustaining feelings of pain and discomfort.

Trigger points develop in muscle for various reasons including referred or local pain, inflammation, tissue injury or other causes.

Symptoms trigger point dry needling can address:

  • Musculoskeletal problems - Muscles are thought to be a primary contributing factor to the symptoms. Conditions include, but are not limited to neck, back, shoulder, and arm pain (tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, golfer’s elbow)

  • Headaches including migraines and tension-type headaches

  • Jaw pain

  • Buttock pain and leg (sciatica, hamstring strains, calf tightness/spasms)

The treatment of muscles has the greatest effect on reducing pain mechanisms in the nervous system.


Is trigger point dry similar to acupuncture?

There are many similarities and differences between trigger point dry needling and acupuncture. Licensed physical therapists in a growing number of states can use trigger point dry needling under the scope of their practice. Physical therapists at Crossing Rivers Health are not licensed acupuncturist and do not practice acupuncture. In contrast to most schools for acupuncture, trigger point dry needling is strictly based on Western medicine principles and research.

How does trigger point dry needling work?

The exact mechanisms of trigger point dry needling are unknown. There are mechanical and biochemical effects. Based on the pioneering studies by Dr. Jay Shah and colleagues and the National Institute of Health, we know that inserting a needle into trigger points can cause favorable biochemical changes, which assist in reducing pain. It is essential to elicit the so-called local twitch responses, which are spinal cord reflexes. Getting local twitch responses with trigger point dry needling is the first step in breaking the pain cycle.

What should I do after having the procedure done?

Our recommendations vary depending on the amount of soreness you have and on the individual response to the treatment. Recommendations may include applying heat or ice over the area, gentle stretches and modifications of activities.

Is the procedure painful?

Most patients do not feel the insertion of the needle. The local twitch response elicits a very brief (less than a second) painful response. Some patients describe this as a little electric shock; others feel it more like a cramping sensation. Again, the therapeutic response occurs with the elicitation of local twitch responses and that is a good and desirable reaction.

How long does it take for the procedure to work?

Typically, it takes several visits for a positive reaction to take place. Again, we are trying to cause mechanical and biochemical changes without any pharmacological means. Therefore, we are looking for cumulative response to achieve a certain threshold after which the pain cycle is disturbed.

Why is my doctor not familiar with trigger point dry needling?

In the U.S., trigger point dry needling is a relatively new method for treating myofascial pain and not everyone is aware of this effective modality. Feel free to inform your doctor about this treatment option. It is upon all of us to educate others about new and innovative ways to treat pain.

Are the needles sterile?

Yes, we only use sterile needles.

What side effects can I expect after the treatment?

Most patients report being sore after the procedure. The soreness is described as muscle soreness over the area treated and into the areas of referred symptoms. Typically, the soreness lasts between a few hours and two days.

Where does trigger point dry needling fit into the entire rehabilitation program?

Generally speaking, trigger point dry needling is the modality of choice when it comes to treating patients in the clinic. More frequently, trigger point dry needling is needed in the beginning in order to break the pain cycle. Once that is achieved, other treatment options are introduced.

Once I am feeling better, how often do I need to have a trigger point dry needling appointment?

The musculoskeletal system is under constant pressure from gravity, stress, work, etc. A regular exercise program combined with good posture can prevent many problems. If the pain comes back, “tune-ups” are recommended to treat and prevent serious injuries.

The primary goal of physical therapy is exercise and movement. These unique therapies may be used in conjunction with other treatments to create a comprehensive plan customized for you. To determine if therapy would be an option, talk with your primary care provider or contact Crossing Rivers Health Rehabilitation and Therapy.

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