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Dry needling is one of the techniques of physical therapy used for the treatment of muscular pain. Physical therapists use fine, short needles to insert into the patient’s skin. These needles do not inject medication into the body; hence, the technique is termed “dry” needling. This method of physical therapy is also termed trigger point dry needling or intramuscular manual therapy.

This method helps in restoring normal muscle and joint function. It is a modern western medicine approach that differs from acupuncture which is a traditional Chinese practice.

How Dry Needling Works?

To carry out dry needling, the physical therapists use thin, stainless steel needles called filiform needles that penetrate the skin and treat the underlying myofascial trigger points. The trigger points are a highly localized and hyper-irritable spot in a taut band of skeletal muscle. These points are sensitive to touch, and touching them may cause pain to other parts of the body.

These points are caused due to various reasons, including local pain, athletic injury, or inflammation. The dry needling technique is used in addition to the hands-on physical therapy approach to reduce pain and restore function. These trigger points are commonly referred to as muscle knots. Several trigger points can occur within an area that can get worse over time if left untreated.

The dry needling treatment produces a local twitch reaction or rapid depolarization of muscle fibers. This process causes a decrease in muscle activity, thus resulting in relaxation and leading to reduced pain and dysfunction. This pain reduction is similar to the elimination of muscular compression on your joint, nerve, and vascular tissue. The dry needling process reproduces referred pain, thus confirming the trigger point as the source of the pain.

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This treatment helps to reduce the local tension in the tissues and improve blood flow to the area, thus reducing inflammation, muscle spasm, and pain. The dry needling process corrects movement impairments, restores normal range of motion, and promotes proper function.

How Dry Needling Differs From Acupuncture?

The dry needling and acupuncture techniques use the same type of needles, but the site for needle insertion differs in both processes. Acupuncture acts as a traditional Chinese alternative medicine that relieves pain and discomfort by regulating the flow of energy or chi. Dry needling stimulates the trigger points or muscles that are irritable.

Conditions Treated Using Dry Needling

1) Headaches

The two primary types of headaches are tension headaches and migraine headaches. The root cause of tension headaches is muscle tension. Migraine headaches can be caused due to muscle tension, nerve irritation, or blood flow restriction to the head. As said earlier, dry needling targets trigger points in the muscles and tissues, thus helping to relieve tension caused by headaches.

2) Back Pain

Almost four in five people experience back pain at some point in their lives, and it is one of the most common health conditions worldwide. A physical therapist starts the dry needling treatment for back pain by manipulating the affected muscle to locate the trigger point. The manipulation leads to a twitch response as a result of the stimulation of the trigger point. 

The physical therapist will then insert the needle into the skin and the underlying muscle, which may last for about 10 to 30 minutes. This treatment provides relaxation in the contracted muscle, thus reducing pain and improving the range of motion. Some patients may experience an immediate reduction in pain, while others may require additional dry needling sessions.

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3) Knee Pain

Dry needling is effective in treating the runner’s or hiker’s knee, which is a knock-kneed position caused during activities like squatting or walking up or downstairs. This causes pain or irritation around or under the kneecap. 

When physical therapists insert the dry needle to treat pain in the knees, a temporary restriction is created in the muscle that eventually gets released. This results in relieving muscle tension, restoring normal flexibility, and improving function. Dry needling treatment is also effective in treating knee osteoarthritis.

4) Arthritis

Hip arthritis is a complex condition that arises from the cartilage, joint surfaces, and surrounding soft tissues. It causes severe pain, decreased mobility, and lost function in several older adults. Physical therapists carry out manual therapy and strength training as the initial treatment for patients with hip arthritis. Dry needling is also effective in treating hip arthritis. The therapy helps in reducing pain, improves range of motion and function.

Other Conditions treated using dry needling include shoulder pain, neck pain, tendonitis, athletic injuries, muscle tightness, muscle spasms, fibromyalgia, etc.


Dry needling is a western medicine approach that differs from traditional acupuncture techniques. In this treatment, physical therapists use a thin filiform needle to insert into the skin or underlying muscle, which results in a local twitch reaction. This response is a good sign that the trigger point has been stimulated, thus increasing blood flow to the area and helps to relax the muscle.