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What Is Dry Needling in Physical Therapy?
Patients recovering from sports or work-related injuries need high-quality physical therapy. Each individual case requires a unique approach to achieve the best results.
When designing a personalized physical therapy course, you doctor may suggest dry needling. This minimally invasive treatment can ease muscle pain and help you take a big step toward recovery.
Let’s take a closer look at what dry needling is and how it works.
What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a modern pain relief and movement restoration technique designed by western practitioners. It involves inserting “dry” needles (i.e. needles without any medication on them) into certain muscle areas called trigger points.
Trigger points are tight bands in a muscle fiber that affect its function, thus restricting the range of motion and causing local pain.
The goal of dry needling is to alleviate pain, inactivate trigger points, and restore muscle function. In most cases, it’s not a standalone method. Your doctor is likely to recommend it as an addition to other physical therapy procedures.
Dry needling practitioners use this technique to treat a number of musculoskeletal issues, including back, neck, and shoulder pain.
While more research needs to be done to explore the long-term positive effects of dry needling therapy, many patients report positive effects after adding this technique to their rehabilitation plan.
How Does Dry Needling Work?
A practitioner inserts a sterilized small solid filament needle into your skin to create small and precise injuries to the tissue. The tiny injuries send a signal to your brain to repair the damage by generating new and healthy cells. When the needle touches a painful trigger point, the muscle can respond with a twitch, followed by relaxation.
As the therapist applies the needle to the trigger point, it decreases tightness, improves blood flow, and stimulates muscle relaxation, relieving pain and restoring lost movement to the limbs.
No-Trigger Dry Needling
While the majority of these procedures involves inserting needles into trigger points, some employ a no-trigger approach. No-trigger point treatment targets a larger area. The practitioner inserts needles around the pain points instead of directly into them.
Training and Certification
A certified therapist must perform dry needling. Even though in the United States, training and licensing for this procedure isn’t controlled by any regulatory agency, experience and knowledge are the keys to the therapy’s success.
How Long Does Dry Needling Last?
A typical dry needling session takes about 20 to 30 minutes. The duration may vary depending on how many trigger points need to be covered. It may take several sessions to achieve top results.
Who is a Good Candidate for Dry Needling?
The majority of patients recovering from sports and work-related injuries are good candidates for dry needling. You may want to avoid the therapy if:
- You have needle phobia
- You have a history of abnormal reactions to injections
- You have lymphedema, blood-clotting issues, and immunodeficiency.
Children under 12 years of age and women in the first trimester of pregnancy should be careful about dry needling.
It’s imperative to consult your therapist about your candidacy. Each patient needs a personalized approach to recovery planning.
How Painful Is Dry Needling?
Since needles are fine and soft, you aren’t likely to feel anything when a doctor inserts them. You will feel the muscles contract (for less than a second) as a response to the needle’s touch. The sensation is likely to be similar to getting a cramp.
During the procedure, you are likely to experience relaxation and pain relief. After dry needling, you could feel muscle pain for about 24 to 48 hours. The pain will be similar to what you might deal with after a hard gym workout.
You may notice slight bruising after the procedure, which should go away in a couple of days. After the treatment is over, you might feel overly fatigued or extremely energized for about an hour.
What are the Risks of Dry Needling?
If you are a good candidate for dry needling, you are likely to avoid the related risks. The procedure may come with minor side effects, including:
- Minor bleeding
- Temporary pain
A serious side effect of dry needling is pneumothorax (collapsed lung). It occurs in less than 0.01% of patients. The condition develops over time so it’s important to pay close attention to your health for a few days after the procedure to prevent serious consequences.
What Should I Expect After the Dry Needling Treatment?
You may not feel any significant difference after the first session. However, you could start experiencing some pain relief and a better range of motion almost immediately. You may feel a little sore after each session, but the feeling should go away in several hours.
You should avoid strenuous physical activity after the procedure. However, stretching and normal workouts aren’t prohibited.
What is the Difference between Acupuncture and Dry Needling?
While both procedures involve needles, dry needling and acupuncture are different. Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine that uses needles to direct energy and affect the nervous system.
Meanwhile, dry needling is a modern technique that focuses on releasing muscle tension and healthy tissue regeneration. This newer practice follows evidence-based guidelines.
Does My Insurance Cover Dry Needling?
The majority of insurance providers, including Medicare, don’t cover dry needling since it’s considered investigational.
CPT codes for dry needling were finally added in January 2020. Unfortunately, right now, these codes have a non-covered status. For more details, you need to check with your insurance company.
Is Dry Needling Right for Me?
Dry needling can be a suitable solution for patients struggling with muscle pain. Only a certified practitioner can make a decision about recommending this therapy based on the medical history and individual characteristics of each patient.
If you think you are a candidate for dry needling but your doctor doesn’t offer it, consider asking. Since the technique is rather new, not all therapists are fully aware of its benefits.
Dry needling is usually part of a larger treatment and recovery plan. If you’d like to learn more about modern physical therapy options, please contact us at any convenient time.
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