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FAQ’s: Dry Needling

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a modality used by physical therapists, athletic trainers, chiropractors, or physicians to decrease tension in muscle tissues. A needle is inserted in specific spots on the desired muscle. Typically, the target is an area of tight, irritated tissue called a trigger point. A twitch response is often desired to help change how the muscle and nerve interact to decrease that tension. This can happen in a couple of different ways. The first way is to use a “piston” technique. In this technique, the practitioner moves the needle in and out of the skin repeatedly, slightly altering the angle of entry each time. This allows the needle to hit different parts of the muscle, looking for a twitch. The other way to do it is to use electrical stimulation. In this method, a current passes between a needle and a conductor or between 2 needles. This creates a repeated pulsation of the muscles. Frequently you can see the rhythm of the pulsation change (to a more consistent pattern) during treatment as the tissue’s resistance to the current decreases.

Is it acupuncture?

No. While the needles are the exact same ones used by an acupuncturist, they are used for very different purposes. I compare it to a physicist and an accountant both using a calculator. Both have the same tool in their hand but are trying to accomplish very different things. Acupuncture is more based on Eastern medicine, while dry needling is Western medicine. In dry needling, we are eliciting a change in muscle tissue, which is not the goal of acupuncture.

Is there some type of medicine involved?

Nope. That’s why it’s called “dry” needling. No medicine is injected by the needle.

Does this really work?

Yes! It’s an incredibly effective tool. It’s very powerful in creating a fast response that lets you move more easily. It’s great at reducing pain. Until a few years ago, the research on this technique was somewhat inconclusive, but over the past few years, researchers have done more thorough research on the topic and have found more conclusive evidence that it does really help. Anecdotally, I have had marvelous results from treating appropriate patients with dry needling. I wish I had become certified in dry needling much sooner than I actually did.

Does it hurt?

Dry needling feels very different than most needles. The needles are incredibly thin, which allows for minimal tissue damage on entry. When you think about how a needle feels when you get a flu shot or blood drawn, for example, they are using much larger needles, so it often feels a little bit sharp during the procedure. If you feel a sharp pain during dry needling, you should let your provider know, because that isn’t the goal. Your provider should remove the needle and try a different spot that doesn’t get sharp pain. The expected feeling is an achiness or crampiness while the needle is in.

Is dry needling a miracle cure?

No. Dry needling is a tool that’s just a piece of the puzzle. I meet some people that are addicted to the relief they get from dry needling, and they tend to think that’s the only thing that will help them. While it may actually help them, there’s ALWAYS something else that needs to be done. For example, we always want to follow up a dry needling session with some type of movement. It may be as simple as some active stretching or balance training. Once your body has achieved a greater ability to move, you want your body to become assimilated to that feeling of being able to move more freely.

Is dry needling for everybody?

Mostly yes, but there are some situations where we need to step back and assess if it’s the right option. Pregnancy, bleeding disorders, certain medications, fear of needles, and a few other scenarios are precautions to dry needling, but we still may be able to proceed. Immediately following surgery, we aren’t going to use dry needling either. We need the tissue to heal a little more before trying it. The electrical stimulation portion of dry needling won’t be done if a person has an electrical implant in their body, such as a pacemaker.

What are some potential drawbacks to dry needling?

There aren’t many. The biggest thing your provider has been trained in is avoiding certain landmarks and internal organs of your body. They will be very aware of these during the procedure. Major events during dry needling are very, very rare. Occasionally, someone may feel a little nauseous or lightheaded from needling. The most common negative side effects of dry needling are bruising and muscle soreness.

Who do I talk to about dry needling?

As mentioned before, physical therapists, athletic trainers, physicians, and chiros are a few professions that are eligible to become dry needling certified, dependent upon the state. These are all great resources. Not all of them will be certified to do this, however. At Backcountry Physical Therapy, our doctor is certified to do level 1 dry needling, which handles most of your needs. If you would like to learn more about dry needling, feel free to contact the office by sending an email to or calling 719-285-9670.

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!