You open your car and lift up the groceries, and that dull ache flares up in your shoulder again. Or maybe your alarm wakes you for work and your head is already throbbing. Or you sit down to type an email and your forearm tingles and begins to go numb.
If you suffer from any kind of chronic pain, you know how difficult it can be to get through your day. Dry needling may be the answer you’ve been looking for.
What is dry needling?
Dry needling (also known as myofascial trigger point dry needling or intramuscular stimulation) is a relatively new practice designed to relieve muscle pain and increase mobility without the use of drugs. During dry needle therapy, a chiropractor or physical therapist will insert small, thin needles into trigger points (knots or tight areas) in your muscles. Nothing is injected into the muscles through the needle, hence the term “dry.” When the needle hits the trigger point, it relaxes the tense muscle, which is typically felt as a spasm or cramp; the result is pain relief. Dry needling is rarely used on its own. It is most effective as part of an overall therapy regimen.
What is dry needling used for?
Dry needling is primarily used for patients suffering from myofascial pain syndrome (MPS), which is just the medical term for chronic muscle pain. MPS occurs when the tissue (or fascia) on the outside of one or more muscles is inflamed. Muscle weakness, restricted movement, extreme tenderness, and local or regional pain are all signs of MPS.
There are many possible underlying causes of MPS. If you suffer from any of the following symptoms or conditions, you may be a good candidate for dry needling:
- Overuse injuries (e.g., tennis elbow, runner’s knee, carpal tunnel)
- Chronic neck and back pain (especially low back pain)
- Joint pain
- Sports injuries
- Post-stroke symptoms
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (or TMJ, which is when the joint connecting your skull to your jaw is damaged)
- Spinal pain
- Muscle cramping
- Post-herpetic neuralgia (pain after you have shingles)
- Tight muscles or knots
Talk with your chiropractor, physical therapist, or doctor to determine whether dry needling makes sense for you.
How does dry needling work?
Dry needling aims to relieve muscular pain and stiffness. When a muscle is stressed from overuse or incorrect contraction, it is unable to receive the proper blood supply. This prevents the muscle from resting and healing, which results in chronic or acute pain. Depending on its severity, this kind of prevalent pain can cause mental stress, anxiety, and even depression. Oftentimes pain medication and other treatments prove ineffective, especially long term, since they are unable to address the root of the issue. This is where dry needling can give your treatment plan a leg up.
While chiropractic care or physical therapy on their own can greatly alleviate chronic and acute myofascial pain syndrome, there are times when dry needling may prove more effective since it can directly target those tough trigger points.
Does dry needling hurt?
The goal of dry needling is to eliminate the knots in a tense muscle. Because the needle is being inserted into an area that is already tender and sore, you can expect to experience some degree of discomfort. Additionally, when the needle is inserted into the trigger point, the muscle twitches or contracts quickly, which results in one to two seconds of a deeper discomfort or pain before the muscle is released.
Once the dry needling session has ended, you will most likely experience soreness that lasts for a day or two. This soreness is similar to how you’d feel after a hard workout at the gym. Your practitioner can show you stretches to help alleviate the soreness. Most patients agree that the pain relief they experience far outweighs the temporary discomfort brought on by the actual dry needling procedure.
When will my pain go away?
The most common instant result of dry needling is increased mobility. While you will most likely experience some pain relief directly following your first session, sometimes you won’t feel relief until the initial soreness has subdued. Depending on the severity, duration, and location of your pain, you may need to commit to up to two months of dry needling sessions before you experience full relief.
Dry needling vs. acupuncture
Many people wonder how dry needling is different from acupuncture since both practices involve needles and are known to relieve pain without drugs. Here is a quick look at the differences:
- Eastern-based technique practiced for thousands of years
- Stringent requirements for practitioners
- Utilizes several long needles at once
- Focuses on hitting muscle nerve endings to release endorphins and encourage energy flow
- Relatively new Western-based technique still being researched
- Requirements are not standardized
- Number of needles varies
- Focuses on hitting trigger points in a tense muscle to release the knot
Both acupuncture and dry needling are options for pain relief especially where medications have failed. As you consider whether dry needling is for you, it is important to remember that this practice is still new and under research. Many patients who have undergone treatment have experienced tremendous relief, and many physical therapists attest to its efficacy. There is a great chance you will experience long-term pain relief from this practice. The best thing to do is to start the conversation with your chiropractor or physical therapist to determine a treatment plan that will put you on the road to a more mobile and pain-free life.
So, whether you just found out the good news or you’re late in your pregnancy, call your chiropractor and set up your assessment today. Make this journey an incredible experience, for you and your baby.
At All Star Chiropractic, our goal is to help our patients recover from back pain, neck pain, lack of mobility, joint issues, range of motion issues, and more—without the use of prescription drugs. We believe in taking a holistic “whole-body” approach to your health. We don’t want to just temporarily fix your pain—we want to determine and treat the root cause so you live an active and pain-free life.
Call one of our locations today to schedule an appointment, or to learn more about how chiropractic care can help you.