Healthy Back Tips

March 2014

Dry Needling

Dry needling is the use of a solid, thin filament needle for the treatment of pain and motion impairment. The needle is used to stimulate hyperirritable trigger points in muscle for the purpose of reducing pain, restoring movement and improving muscle performance. The inactivation of trigger points in muscle through dry needling can rapidly eliminate or decrease pain by relaxing the taut muscle bands within the muscle and fascia. When the muscle band releases circulation is restored and the chemical irritants dispersed. There is also growing evidence that dry needling of trigger points can reduce hypersensitivity in the nervous system established by chronic pain conditions.

From a historical perspective dry needling developed from the beliefs of western medical practitioners that trigger points in muscle were significant sources of musculoskeletal pain. One of the most famous of these physicians was Janet Travell M.D. who was the personal physician of President John F. Kennedy. Injections to trigger points in muscles, therefore, is not based on the theoretical foundations of traditional or modern acupuncture, but instead developed independently of acupuncture concepts.

One key to successful application of dry needling is the identification of trigger points by skilled palpation. Physical therapists with exceptional knowledge of functional anatomy and trained palpation technique are health practitioners that excel in the application of dry needling. Dry needling is practiced by physical therapists in many countries including Canada, Chile, Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The American Physical Therapy Association has ruled dry needling to be within the scope of physical therapy practice.  In the state of Georgia dry needling has been legislatively incorporated into the physical therapy practice act.

Dry needling as practiced by physical therapists is safe. The United States Federation State Boards of Physical Therapy Examination, Licensure and Disciplinary Database have no entries for serious harm caused by dry needling performed by physical therapists. All physical therapists have studied the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Blood Borne Pathogen Regulations and practice clean needle technique.

Research has established that dry needling is an effective adjunct treatment for back and neck pain, tension and migraine headaches, shoulder problems, myofascial pain, temporomandibular joint disorders, hyperexcitability of the nervous system and other joint related dysfunctions. Most physical therapists that incorporate dry needling into clinical practice also utilize manual therapy in the treatment of pain and motion impairment which further increases the likelihood of benefit for relieving pain and restoring movement.

The needles used for dry needling are solid and very thin. There is no pain when the needle passes through the skin, but when the needle is inserted into the sensitive trigger point the sensation is unpleasant and often described as deep aching, pressure or soreness. Upon entering the trigger point in the muscle the trigger point is needled for several minutes. Any short term discomfort felt at the time of needling will be worth the lasting relief dry needling provides. Following a dry needling session the muscle may feel sore for a few hours and sometimes for a full day after, but typically does not interfere with everyday activities. Cold application to the sore muscle is suggested to minimize the discomfort. Following the sore period the pain will subside and you will feel better, often for an extended period of time.

Should you have further questions regarding dry needling or would like to consider dry needling treatment please contact the Atlanta Back Clinic at 770 491 6004 so that we can determine if you might benefit.