What is Dry Needling?

I always get asked by friends and patients what dry needling is so I thought I'd write a brief introduction to it's effects on the body. 

Dry needling is a skilled intervention performed by physical therapists that uses a thin needle to penetrate the skin to stimulate underlying muscular trigger points to relieve myofascial or neuromuscular pain

  • What is a trigger point? 
    • When a certain muscle is always contracting or "on", it builds up lactic acid and other inflammatory processes that cause your muscle to become irritated and sticky, which blocks out oxygen. These are the tender and sometimes painful "knots" you feel during massages. 
    • That muscle soreness you feel after a workout? Also from lactic acid. The problem is that if the muscle is always on, it never gets to rest and those inflammatory processes are stuck within the muscle fibers. 
  • How does dry needling work?
    • A therapist performing dry needling will be looking for a "twitch" response from the muscle as the needle is inserted into the trigger point. This brings about chemical, neurological and physical changes. 
    • Right at the source of pain, a dry needle can be used directly at the trigger point to...
      • Increase blood flow and oxygen
      • Decrease muscle shortening
      • Release waste build up
  • Does it hurt?
    • The needle itself is a thin filament needle that can barely be felt upon insertion. Once the practitioner finds a trigger point, the twitch response may feel like a quick cramp. 
    • After the session, muscle soreness may be felt for a day or two. It is recommended to drink plenty of fluids, applying heat, and staying active to reduce the soreness. 

Now, I must mention that dry needling is not a cure-all. It is one aspect of therapy that, if used, must be incorporated in the entire treatment plan. Think of it as a band-aid. It may be useful initially, but you are not going to be applying band-aids for the rest of your life. It is patient specific. It is a means to an end. 

If you have any questions, you can send me a message under the appointments tab!



  1. American Physical Therapy Association. APTA Department of Practice and APTA State Government Affairs. Physical Therapists & The Performance of Dry Needling: An Educational Resource Paper. 2012.
  2. Kalichman L, Vulfsons S. Dry Needling in the Management of Musculoskeletal Pain; JABFM 2010;23 (5): 640-646.
  3. Vulfsons S, Ratmansky M, Kalichman L. Trigger point needling: Techniques and Outcome. Springer Science +Business Media, LLC 2012. Published online: 18, May 2012.