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Dry Needling, What is it?

For those in high level sports or those who have been in a physical therapy setting previously, you may have heard of a treatment known as trigger point dry needling. Most confuse dry needling with acupuncture while many simply wonder what exactly it is and if it is something that may be right for them in treating injuries and pain.

While a procedure with “needles” may seem intimidating, dry needling is very safe and discomfort is minimal. Dry needling is an effective technique for patients with certain musculoskeletal presentations. This treatment is performed by certified, skilled, trained physical therapists who specialize in the procedure of dry needling. A thin monofilament needle is used to penetrate the skin and manipulate underlying muscular trigger points for the management of neuromusculoskeletal pain and movement impairments.

So, what about the word “trigger point”? A trigger point is a local contracture or tight band in a muscle fiber that can disrupt function, restrict range of motion, refer pain or cause local tenderness. When dry needling is applied to a dysfunctional muscle or trigger point, it can decrease banding or tightness, increase blood flow, and reduce local and referred pain. Dry needling treats muscle tissue, and its goal is to reduce pain, inactivate trigger points and restore function.

It’s important to note that although the tools used in acupuncture are similar to the tools used for dry needling, the two procedures are not the same. Acupuncture is based on Eastern medicine, while dry needling is rooted in Western medicine and evaluation of pain patterns, posture, movement impairments, function and orthopedic tests. Dry needling is performed by practitioners trained and specializing in western based physical therapy.

Dry needling is rarely a standalone treatment and is usually part of a broader physical therapy approach incorporating other traditional physical therapy interventions into the treatment process.

Dry needling can be used for a wide variety of musculoskeletal issues, such as shoulder, neck, back hip and leg pain. Although research has shown that dry needling is a safe and effective approach for treating and managing injuries and pain, some insurance companies may not cover the procedure.

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