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Dry Needling and Physical Therapy

I doubt that anyone is honestly excited to hear that needles are the technique of choice in an upcoming medical procedure. In fact, it may produce feelings of anxiety and dread in the patient, but the more information we have, the more confident we begin to feel. So, let’s talk about a procedure commonly known as dry needling and alleviate the fear of the unknown.

Dry needling is used by physical therapists to relieve pain and help with muscle weakness in an affected area. The term “dry” simply means there is no medication injected into the site. Dry needles treat the muscular system, ligaments, tendons, and peripheral nerves for neuromusculoskeletal problems and pain. You might hear the process called by other names such as trigger point dry needling or intramuscular manual therapy. Many people inaccurately believe dry needling to be the same as acupuncture, but it is not. Dry needling as performed by a licensed and educated physical therapist is based on modern medicine and current research.

Now, let’s talk about the process itself. A filiform needle, (thin, short, and composed of stainless steel), is used by the therapist to penetrate the skin’s surface and stimulate myofascial trigger point and other surrounding tissues. In case you’re wondering…a myofascial trigger point is a sensitive, irritated area typically found within a tight band of skeletal muscle tissue. This area is painful if pressed, can cause referred pain in other areas of the body, and even create dysfunction of motor activities. It is known by the tenderness and pain felt in muscles and can even be felt as knots in the affected muscle area. Dry needling allows the therapist to accurately treat an otherwise unreachable area. Needling stimulates affected nerves and tissues allowing for an increase in input to the central biasing mechanism. The idea being that the pain gates to the affected area are decreased or closed. The goal of the needle is to prick tiny nerve endings or neural tissue for the purpose of reducing pain.