Functional Dry Needling is a treatment technique that utilizes thin, solid filament needles to deactivate and desensitize trigger points (knots) in muscles that contribute to pain, decreased flexibility, and decreased muscle function. Myofascial trigger points are knots in muscles that can contribute to pain, decreased flexibility and decreased muscle function. Dry needling is the treatment of neuromusculoskeletal systems based on pain patterns, muscular dysfunction and loss of function. It is used to treat injured muscle (strains/tears) or overused or over-trained muscles (the result of fitness/exercise, repetitive motions), resulting in pain and weakness. Prime candidates for functional dry needling include individuals with tendonitis who have a muscular injury that has not improved, runners, cyclists, those training for fitness, and industrial athletes performing repetitive movements. Dry needling is not acupuncture, a practice based on traditional Chinese medicine and performed by acupuncturists. Dry needling is a part of modern Western medicine principles, and supported by a growing body of research.
What is a Trigger Point?
A trigger point is a taut band of skeletal muscle located within a larger muscle group. Trigger points can be tender to the touch, and touching a trigger point may cause pain to other parts of the body.
What Kind of Needles Are Used?
Dry needling involves a thin filiform needle that penetrates the skin and stimulates underlying myofascial trigger points and muscular and connective tissues. The needle allows a physical therapist to target tissues that are not manually palpable. Physical therapists wear gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when dry needling, consistent with Standard Precautions, Guide to Infection Prevention for Outpatient Settings, and OSHA standards. The sterile needles are disposed of in a medical sharps collector.
Why Dry Needling?
In cases when dry needling is used by physical therapists, it is typically 1 technique that's part of a larger treatment plan.
Physical therapists use dry needling with the goal of releasing or inactivating trigger points to relieve pain or improve range of motion. Preliminary research 2 supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.
As part of their entry level education, physical therapists are well educated in anatomy and therapeutic treatment of the body. Physical therapists who perform dry needling supplement that knowledge by obtaining specific postgraduate education and training. When contacting a physical therapist for dry needling treatment, be sure to ask about their specific experience and education.