by Lindsay Scott, PT, DPT

Q: What is dry needling and how can it help with my pain and ability to function?

A: Trigger Point Dry Needling is recognized by the American Physical Therapy Association as a manual or hands-on technique to treat trigger points or muscle “knots,” by using a thin filament needle. It is termed “dry” needling because there is no medication injected into the tissue; the needle itself is the tool.

The needle is the same size as an acupuncture needle, but the goal and treatment approach are very different. Acupuncture is based on Chinese medicine and involves only the superficial skin layer. Dry needling is supported by research and is a Western medicine intervention. The needle is inserted deep into the trigger point within a muscle to obtain a local twitch, an involuntary response.

A trigger point is an area of muscle fibers that have become very tight. If you feel like you have a guitar string in your muscle, a trigger point is to blame. If not treated, trigger points lead to chronic pain, referred pain to other areas of the body and actually cause weakness and difficulty strengthening the muscle.

Dry needling has proven to be a quick and effective way to loosen tight tissue and decrease pain by relaxing trigger points. It does this by correcting impaired cells where nerves and muscles connect. This helps remove pain substances that are released when cells are damaged, and it changes the way our bodies sense pain.

In my experience, impaired muscle activity is almost always a part of a person’s pain. Dry needling may cause some soreness to the treated muscle, but this is temporary.  Most people feel that the benefits far outweigh this brief discomfort. The results should be noticeable as soon as the soreness resolves, usually within  24-48 hours.

While many people experience an immediate decrease or relief of pain, it is important to note that dry needling is used in conjunction with the rest of your physical therapy treatment plan. In order to prevent the trigger points from returning, your therapist can guide you to perform important exercises and techniques that will help you stay pain-free. Talk to your healthcare professional to see if your pain can be relieved by this type of physical therapy.


Scott, PT, DPT is certified to practice trigger point dry needling through Myopain Seminars. She can be reached at 910-715-1600.