Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • April 2015
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Dry needling 101 — Your questions answered

Have you been thinking about trying dry needling but want some questions answered before you schedule an appointment? Maybe you aren’t quite sure what dry needling is, are confused about how it differs from acupuncture or you are simply afraid that it will be painful. Not to worry, we are here to give you the facts about the dry needling process.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a therapeutic technique in which a trained physical therapist inserts small, sterile filament needles into the skin and muscle directly at a trigger point. This generates a twitch response, helping release muscle tension and pain. The goal is to release or inactivate the trigger points and relieve pain.

Is dry needling the same thing as acupuncture?

Dry needling and acupuncture, while they use the same needle types, are two very different treatments. Dry needling is a therapeutic technique where a trained physical therapist inserts small, sterile, solid filament needles into the skin and muscle directly at a trigger point. The ultimate goal is to generate a “twitch response” which helps release the tension and pain located in the muscles. On the other hand, acupuncture involves the insertion of these thin needles through the skin at strategic points of the body. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine that is believed to adjust and alter the body’s energy flow into healthier patterns.

What is a trigger point?

Trigger points consist of multiple contraction knots within a muscle, and they can develop due to injury, dysfunction and overuse. Active trigger points impair a person’s ability to lengthen strengthen or contract the muscle. As a result, the muscle shortens and compresses the structure around it, causing pain.

How does dry needling work?

Pioneering studies by Dr. Jay Shah and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health have shown that inserting a needle into trigger points can cause favorable change that can assist in reducing chronic pain issues. It is essential to elicit local twitch responses, which are spinal cord reflexes. Getting local twitch responses with dry needling is the first step in breaking the pain cycle.

What types of problems can be treated with dry needling?

Dry needling can be used to treat a variety of musculoskeletal issues. Muscles are thought to be a primary contributing factor to the symptoms. Such conditions include but are not limited to neck, back and shoulder pain; arm pain (tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, and golfer’s elbow); headaches (migraines and tension-related paid); jaw and dental pain, and buttock and leg pain (sciatica, hamstring strains, calf tightness/spasms). The treatment of muscles has the greatest effect on reducing pain mechanisms in the nervous system.

Are the needles sterile?

Yes, only sterile disposable needles are used.

Is dry needling painful?

The needle used in the procedure is very thin and most patients do not feel the insertion of the needle. The local twitch response elicits a very brief (less than a second) painful response. Some patients describe this as a little electrical shock or a cramping sensation. This twitch response is a positive and desirable reaction.

How long does it usually take to notice results?

Typically, it takes from one to a few visits for a positive reaction to take place.

Are there any side effects?

Patients may report feeling sore following the procedure. The soreness is described as muscle soreness over the area treated and into the areas of referred symptoms. Typically, the soreness lasts a few hours.

Once I am feeling better, how often do I need to come back to maintain my progress?

The musculoskeletal system is under constant pressure from gravity, stress, work, etc. A regular exercise program combined with good posture can prevent many problems. If the pain comes back, dry needling “tuneups” are recommended to treat and prevent serious injuries.

Dry needling has been found to be a very effective tool for patients diagnosed with orthopedic problems, pelvic pain, chronic pain, headaches. If you are experiencing any of these, you may benefit greatly from this manual therapy technique.


Connie Strey

Connie Strey is a licensed physical therapist who specializes in women’s health at PT Center for Women. Connie has over 16 years of experience treating pelvic pain, urinary and fecal incontinence, pre- and postpartum dysfunction, fibromyalgia, post mastectomy rehabilitation and dry needling. Connie is passionate about pelvic pain and provides comprehensive musculoskeletal and pelvic floor exams to assure an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.

To learn more about Connie’s dry needling services, visit or call 920-729-2982.

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