What is Dry Needling and How Does it Work?

What is Dry Needling and How Does it Work?

Dry Needling is a specific treatment technique used on muscle trigger points that create pain and discomfort. A muscle trigger point is a highly localized, hyper-irritable spot in a palpable, taut band of skeletal muscle fibers. These trigger points, or sensitive small cramps in the soft tissue of the muscles, can be incredibly uncomfortable and have patients desperately trying to seek relief.

Contrary to acupuncture, which is rooted in Eastern medicine, dry needling is based upon Western medicine and the assessment of a patient’s posture, pain patterns, movement impairments, orthopedic tests, and function. Only those who are certified should administer dry needling treatments to patients. The goal of dry needling is to decrease muscle tightness, reduce local and referred pain, and increase blood flow in a variety of pain areas like the: neck, hip, foot, shoulder, and back areas.

How Does Dry Needling Work?

A dry needling treatment uses a thin, sterile, solid filament needle inserted into the skin to stimulate the underlying myofascial trigger points. In the process of conducting a dry needling treatment, there is no liquid or medication injected into the patient.

When the muscle is stimulated with the needle, a twitch of the muscle fibers takes place which removes stress on the joint, nerve or vascular tissue. As a result, the muscle activity reduces dramatically, allowing it to relax and the pain and dysfunction to decrease. Essentially, dry needling creates a small muscle contraction which then allows the muscle fibers to return back to a normal, non-cramped state.

Does Dry Needling Hurt?

Occasionally, when the needle is inserted a patient will feel “referred pain.” Referred pain is pain that is perceived to be occurring at a different location than the actual spot of pain, in this case, the muscle trigger point. Due to the body’s interwoven sensory nerves, you may feel a brief uncomfortable feeling in the surrounding muscle tissues due to conflicting brain signals. This is usually a positive sign confirming the trigger point as the cause of the patient’s pain. This shows that the inserted dry needle did in fact make an impression upon the targeted muscle.

Dry needling is a comprehensive treatment that when used in conjunction with exercise and manual therapy, can provide significant positive benefits to patients.

To learn more about Dry Needling, check out our Dry Needling Frequently Asked Questions!

What Conditions Benefit from Dry Needling?

The goal of dry needling is to release overactive muscles and “untighten” the continuous muscle fiber contraction to allow the muscles to relax. Multiple clinical studies have shown the positive benefits that dry needling can have on patients. Everybody is different and reacts to treatments differently, so it’s important to note that dry needling is not a standalone treatment.

In a study of dry needling vs. a placebo group for individuals with myofascial pain syndrome, those who had dry needling performed on their body reported a decrease in pain, an improvement in their quality of life and a decreased need for medications. 

Cervicogenic Headaches

Multiple studies have shown that dry needling significantly improve symptoms from secondary or cervicogenic headaches. Secondary headaches are ones that have an underlying condition or injury prompting them. Cervicogenic headaches are due to structural issues in the neck and cervical vertebrae in the spine. These painful headaches can occur in the back of the neck and back of the head and may move towards the front of the head. Symptoms for these secondary headaches can include: nausea, blurred vision, pain in the shoulder or arm, pain around the eyes and sensitivity to light. Studies show that dry needling can improve these headaches over 4-5 weeks.


In 2014, a case study was conducted to understand the short-term value dry needling could provide to patients who suffered from Fibromyalgia. Those who have the Fibromyalgia disorder can experience musculoskeletal pain along with fatigue, sleep and cognitive issues. This disorder does not have a cure, but there are a few methods to alleviate pain – dry needling being one of them. In the study, researchers administered dry needling therapy to patients for one hour each week for six weeks. The results were positive. Dry needling showed significant positive differences in patients’ fatigue, pain level and pressure pain threshold. These positive benefits continued to relieve patients even six weeks post treatment.

Trigger Point Dry Needling at Results

As with all needle treatments, patients can be apprehensive when trying out dry needling. However, at Results, your safety is our top priority and we are dedicated to providing all of our patients with expert care from our team. Results physical therapists have four times more training and education than the national average for all physical therapists. We apply medical standard precautions, use personal protective high-quality equipment, and proudly hold to the highest standards of safety at all of our clinics.

If you are interested in making a dry needling appointment with one of our therapists, locate one of our physical therapy clinics near you and schedule an appointment online. If you have any additional questions about the treatment, please visit our Results Physiotherapy website. Book an Appointment with a Physical Therapist today to see if Dry Needling Therapy is right for you! We look forward to meeting you and starting your road to recovery!

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