You have probably heard the term “dry needling” at this point and may be wondering what it is. Is it acupuncture? What does it treat? How does it work? Should I be trying it?
Dry needling has gained popularity with physical therapists in the U.S. over the past 10-15 years. The concept was initially discovered and developed by medical doctors who realized that they had the same if not better effects when using dry needling as opposed to “wet” needling (i.e., injecting a substance or medication) when treating musculoskeletal issues.
It is often asked if dry needling and acupuncture are the same -- they are not. Dry needling and acupuncture use the same tool, a fine stainless steel needle, but that is where the similarities stop. Dry needling is based in principles of Western Medicine, while acupuncture is based in principles of Eastern Medicine. In seeing a physical therapist for dry needling, needles will be placed fairly close to the area of your pain and/or dysfunction and have an anatomical structure to which they are being directed.
Some conditions, among many, that have been shown by research to be well-treated by dry needling are: tendon injuries, osteoarthritis, chronic shoulder pain, TMJ pain, headaches and migraines, mechanical neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, adhesive capsulitis, and even fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
How does it work? There are multiple proposed and proven methods to how dry needling works. These include:
- Improving the structure and strength of collagen fibers (particularly during specific phases of tendon and soft tissue healing)
- Playing a role in cartilage repair in patients with knee osteoarthritis
- Deactivate trigger points
- Inhibiting peripheral pain processing
- Descending pain inhibition
- Stimulating local vasodilation (i.e. increased circulation)
- Decreasing local pro-inflammatory factors
- Pain relief via endogenous opioid and non-opioid mediated pathways
- Release of serotonin and norepinephrine
The use of electric stimulation with dry needling can amplify some of the effects above, and therefore the overall benefits of the treatment.
To find out more about dry needling and if it may benefit your specific condition, reach out to us! We will have providers certified in dry needling at each of our 3 locations, and would be happy to do a consultation with you.
Written by Nicole Lopes PT, DPT, CAFS
(Justine Anderson PT, DPT)