Although you may have never heard of dry needling, there has been a lot of discussion about it in the healthcare field lately, especially in light of the abuses of narcotic pain medications. In a nutshell, dry needling is a treatment technique whereby thin, filament needles are used to penetrate into myofascial trigger points and other taught or painful tissues in the body to elicit a neurological, collagen or chemical change in the tissue to decrease pain or tightness. Western medical acupuncture (or dry needling) is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, and the principles of evidence based medicine. It is easy to see how the lines between acupuncture and dry needling are blurry. The treatments are similar with a slightly different philosophy behind the application of those treatments.

As physical therapists, we apply the use of the needles to modulate pain, increase healing by stimulating collagen or bone proliferation, release tight scar tissue or fascia and decrease neurologic sensitivity. We use a combination of traditional Chinese meridian points along with needling directly into hyperactive muscle trigger points (sore muscle knots) in our treatments to accomplish the relaxation or pain modulation. Different lengths of needles are used to reach areas as shallow as on the face, head and pelvic floor or as deep as getting far into the hip and sacro-iliac joints.

There has been extensive research to show how directly “pecking” the bone with the needle tips can cause a positive change in osteoarthritis or stimulate healing of bone spurs. The same is true for conditions like plantar fasciitis, frozen shoulder, tension headaches, and piriformis syndrome where manipulating the needles with a spinning motion relieves the tension and pain so normal function can return. This manual stimulation of the needle causes a viscoelastic relaxation. We can attach small, clamp electrodes to the shaft of the needles to introduce electrical stimulation deeply into the trigger points. One way electricity helps is to change the polarity of the fluids, nerves and tissues or alter the body’s sensation of pain which then changes the perception of pain. The other benefit of electricity is to cause repeated or constant muscle contractions forcing the metabolic chemicals needed to create a contraction or spasm to be depleted, thus limiting how much a muscle trigger point can activate. The absence of chemicals needed to stimulate a contraction equal relaxation of a spasm or tight muscle.

At Hands On Physical Therapy, we have several therapists certified to apply dry needling for many diagnoses and pain conditions. Insurance does cover the cost of the therapy, or we have self pay rates as well. All that is required is a prescription for physical therapy.

Katrina Barton, PT, Cert DN