Dry Needling: An Alternative to Managing Pain, Impairments and Disability

Shot of a caring physiotherapist consulting with his mature patient in the rehabilitation center
Pain is no reason to stop living your life

Shot of a caring physiotherapist consulting with his mature patient in the rehabilitation center

Dry Needling (DN) is a skilled technique performed by a Physical Therapist using thin filiform needles to penetrate the skin and/or underlying tissues to affect change in body structures and functions for the evaluation and management of neuromusculoskeletal conditions, pain, movement impairments, and disability. DN is considered dry compared to wet needling because nothing is being injected into the body. Positive effects of DN include increased blood flow to the area, flexibility, range of motion, restored function, reduced pain. Once your therapist has completed the needling to the affected area, or “reset” the spot of dysfunction, the physical therapist then provided “reinforcement” techniques in order to enhance positive outcomes. Reinforcement includes education such as contraindications and activity modifications to enhance rehabilitation. Individualized corrective exercises are then used to “reload” correct movement patterns in order to create non painful movement patterns such as squatting, rotating your head, looking up or down, reaching behind your back, touching your toes, reaching backwards and squatting.

  • Is Dry Needling Acupuncture? 

Acupuncture involves evaluation and examination of the tongue and pulse that are important in placing needles in meridians. Meridian locations are important in order to balance energy, life force, and qi of the body. Dry needling utilizes an evaluation of the neuromuscular symptoms in order to identify needle locations. These needle locations are not placed in meridians but instead are identified based off assessment and knowledge of anatomy.

  • To Needle Or Not To Needle?

Is Needling The Right Choice For You? Like all forms of intervention what is a good option for one person isn’t for another. Although DN has positive results there are populations that are considered to be inappropriate for this treatment method. Some contraindications include 1st trimester pregnancy, uncontrolled anticoagulation usage, a compromised immune system, local infection/active tumor, history of lymph node removal, and the occipital region of an Individual with Arnold Chiari malformation. It is also recommended to wait 12 weeks post surgery before receiving DN to the local area.

  • Potential Complications 

Like most interventions there comes a handful of potential complications. Commonly (1-10%) people can experience needle insertion pain, muscle soreness, fatigue, and bruising. Uncommon (.1-1%) complications include aggravation of symptoms, feeling faint/dizzy, headaches, or a bend needle. Rare/very rare side effects (.01-.1%) can experience an infection or a pneumothorax depending on the location of the needle.

  • What’s The Next Step If Interested? 

In order to try this new alternative intervention it is important to first discuss this with your doctor. If you and your doctor agree it is appropriate then a prescription will be filled out to include it in your Physical Therapy plan of care. Dry Needling can only be performed by a credentialed PT. Currently certified therapist are located at the Northbridge and Milford rehabilitation clinic.



This blog was written by Andrew Buskey PT, DPT. For more information about dry needling, or to book an appointment call the  Milford clinic at (508) 422-2388 or the Northbridge clinic at (508) 234-8792.  

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