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Needle therapy: The basics you should know about this PT technique

Needle therapy
3 minutes, 22 seconds

While needle therapy sounds scary, it can be a valuable part of a physical therapy treatment plan. For many patients, dry needling, a type of needle therapy, can immediately reduce pain and inflammation associated with a variety of conditions. 

As a result, it is being increasingly used at physical therapy practices across the country. In a 2020 survey of U.S. PT practices, more than half of surveyed physical therapists said they currently offer dry needling services at their clinics. When coupled with manual therapy techniques, needle therapy may be able to effectively ease pain and increase patients’ quality of life. 

What is needle therapy? 

Needle therapy can be separated into two categories: wet needling and dry needling. Wet needling involves a hollow needle that injects medicinal liquids like corticosteroids and anesthetics. Think of the yearly flu shots we get (or are supposed to, at least). 

In contrast, dry needling involves a thin monofilament needle that is inserted into muscles, ligaments, tendons and scar tissue. The needles are often placed into “trigger points,” like areas of knotted or hard muscles, and are left in place for a short period of time. 

The needles used in dry needling therapy are like the ones used in acupuncture. However, the two practices have several differences. For one thing, their practitioners complete different training programs. In addition, dry needling is solely based in Western medicine and research, while acupuncture is rooted in Chinese tradition.

How can dry needling help? 

Dry needling can offer a variety of benefits for those with chronic conditions and acute injuries. In addition to treating pain, it can be used to help fast-track healing. For example, dry needling can help athletes overcome delayed onset muscle soreness and speed up their recovery time.

In addition, many physical therapy practices use dry needling to help: 

  • Ease pain. 
  • Decrease muscle tension. 
  • Break up scar tissue naturally. 
  • Improve blood flow to the targeted area.
  • Enhance the body’s ability to heal. 

What to expect during and after a dry needling session

When performing dry needling, physical therapists may insert the needle into the site of pain — the trigger point — or in the surrounding tissue. Stimulating a trigger point with a needle helps encourage blood flow back to the area and release tension. Doing so can also stimulate the nerves and encourage the brain to release endorphins, a hormone that provides pain relief. 

Dry needling should not cause pain or discomfort. However, patients may experience a normal “twitch response,” or quick muscle cramp or ache in response as the needle interacts with muscular nerves. After a dry needling session, muscle soreness can be felt for up to 24 to 48 hours. However, one dry needling study reports that less than 3% of people felt pain after their sessions. 

Additionally, patients may also experience minor bruising in areas where the needles were inserted. Again, this aftereffect is not common. A dry needling study found that less than 8% of patients experienced bruising after their treatment.

What conditions can dry needling treat? 

Research has pointed to the pain-relieving benefits of dry needling. Studies have shown that, in the case of knee injuries and osteoarthritis, dry needling improved microcirculation around the knee joint and positively influenced healing. 

Dry needling can also help ease both acute and chronic pain associated with a range of conditions, including: 

  • Headaches.
  • Hip and knee pain.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Sciatic pain. 
  • Arthritis.
  • Myofascial pain syndrome.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT techniques, including dry needling

Now that you know a bit more about dry needling and the benefits it can offer, you may be thinking, “I’d like to see if dry needling can help the pain I’m feeling.” Alliance Physical Therapy Partners is ready to help you find a PT practice that can help you make this thought a reality.

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address injuries and chronic conditions with dry needling and other effective PT techniques. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your injury or condition.

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