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Dry Needling

by Chelsea Commander, APRN, FNP-C


More than 25% of Americans have a musculoskeletal condition that requires medical attention. Chronic back pain accounts for most of the common musculoskeletal pain conditions and can be treated non-operatively or surgically, depending on the acuity of the problem and its symptoms.

One popular and cost-effective alternative is dry needling. This involves inserting a dry filament needle into the ‘trigger point’ to alleviate pain. The trigger point is a hyperirritable area of tissue that is tender when compressed and can give rise to pain.  Trigger points occurring in muscles are referred to as myofascial trigger points, but they can also occur in other types of connective tissue, such as ligaments, tendons, and skin.

Unlike acupuncture, which is a traditional Chinese medicine technique, dry needling practitioners insert needles directly into the muscles and nerve pathways causing the pain. The purpose for this is to cause the trigger point to twitch or spasm which will disrupt the “neurological feedback loop” that keeps the muscle in a contracted state of pain, and as a result, will release the pressure.

A variety of musculoskeletal problems can be treated with dry needling, such as but not limited to, acute/chronic injuries, headaches, neck/back pain, tendinitis, muscle spasms, sciatica, hip/knee pain, muscle strains, and fibromyalgia.

Research has shown that dry needling can improve pain control, reduce muscle tension, normalize biochemical and electrical dysfunction of motor endplates, and facilitate an accelerated return to active rehabilitation. However, patients must be diligent with their daily stretches as assigned by their physical therapist. These exercises can make the effects of dry needling last longer. Patients should also use caution when exercising and remember that stretching aggressively can make things worse.

If you are interested in dry needling, consult with your physician to see if you are a candidate for this great alternative way to relieve pain and stress.