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Physical therapists use a variety of techniques to treat pain and conditions that inhibit a patient’s movement. One of those techniques, dry needling, utilizes a solid filament needle inserted into the muscle.

How does dry needling work? Here are six things to know.

1. Dry Needling vs Acupuncture

Acupuncture is based in Eastern medicine and focuses on the flow of Qi, or energy, along meridians for the treatment of diseases.

Dry needling is a Western approach to treating pain and dysfunction in musculoskeletal conditions and serves as a reset button, breaking the pain cycle by resolving trigger points.

2. Dry needling can be used to treat a variety of conditions

Any patient who has pain and/or movement dysfunction due to a musculoskeletal condition can use dry needling to reduce pain. This includes any muscle where a trigger point is located, chronic pain, lumbar pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches/migraines, whiplash and plantar fasciitis.

Once a therapist deems a patient appropriate for dry needling, a prescription is obtained and the patient signs a consent form.

Physical therapist Beverly Knight uses dry needling techniques with electrical stimulation on the upper trapezius and levator muscles that are often involved with neck pain.

3. Each patient receives personalized treatment

Treatment is personalized for each patient and can include a warm-up, dry needling, stretching and/or activation of the muscle to promote normal length (extensibility) and restore normal contraction and control of the muscle.

4. The needles are targeted at trigger points

The patient starts by being placed in a comfortable, safe position that exposes the affected area. The therapist first wipes the skin with alcohol to clean the surface layer, then palpates (examines by touch) the affected area for tenderness and/or palpable trigger points, which are taut hyper-contracted nodules/bands within muscle tissue.

5. You may not even feel it

Needles are inserted and manipulated and removed or left in for a period of time. The patient may feel the needle enter the skin, but sometimes it is not felt at all depending on the patient and the location of the needle. 

The needle elicits a local twitch response followed by the relaxation of the muscle. There may be a cramping, aching sensation or slight discomfort that lasts a few seconds. Electrical stimulation can be applied to the needles to bring even more blood flow to the tissues and relax the muscle tissue.

6. Pain relief may come after just one session

Some patients report 50 percent pain relief after just one session, while others find relief after multiple sessions.

What's Next?

Ready to find a personalized solution to your pain? Find an OrthoCarolina location near you.

This article was originally written on August 28, 2018, and updated on October 21, 2021.


April 26, 2022

Yes I am in charlotte thank you! Would a chiropractor trained in DN also be good?
- Denise Smith
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

April 27, 2022

Denise, could we please take this conversation 'offline' so we can speak specifics about locations best for you? Fill out this contact us form and we will be in touch with a list of OC providers who do Dry Needling.

April 25, 2022

Hi is dry needling appropriate for chest wall tightness/pain like Costochondritis? How painful is recovery?
- Denise smith
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

April 26, 2022

This is a great question - we would recommend a Physical Therapy evaluation with a therapist that has completed that level work & can work in the thoracic area. It can be a component of a comprehensive plan once an eval is completed. Are you local to Charlotte? If so we can provide better suggestions on who that could be for you.

October 24, 2018

Does Rock Hill do this?
- Teresa Harris
Reply From: OrthoCarolina

October 24, 2018

Hi Teresa, we don't yet, but plan to have this service available by the end of March 2019 at our Rock Hill Physical Therapy location. Thank you!