How Does Dry Needling Work?


While acupuncture involves inserting sterile needles into various motor points across the body with the intention of improving oxygen and blood flow, dry needling has a more targeted approach, focusing on trigger points to release muscle tension and restore mobility. Although dry needling is not considered acupuncture per se, it is often used in conjunction with acupuncture to treat various musculoskeletal issues. But since it isn’t technically acupuncture, that begs the question, how does dry needling work?

Dry needling eases tight muscles by loosening the muscle fibers and increasing circulation. When the needle is inserted, it causes the muscle to twitch, which encourages the muscle to relax. 

What is dry needling and how is it different from acupuncture?

Acupuncture is based on centuries of tradition. Needles are inserted at different points of the body based on nerve maps with the intention of opening up blocked channels and restoring balance. Acupuncture’s goal is to improve blood and oxygen flow, which can dramatically reduce inflammation and ease pain. 

But dry needling is a bit more specific, by comparison. Rather than treat the whole body, dry needling focuses on treating only the muscles that are tight. Dry needling is particularly effective at treating muscle knots because it stimulates muscle release. However, dry needling can also be helpful in encouraging underperforming muscles to “wake up”, since the initial twitch as the needle enters promotes contraction. Dry needling is similar to orthopedic acupuncture in this respect. 

Is dry needling painful?

Dry needling is a hybridization of acupuncture, so it can be used on its own, or in conjunction with traditional acupuncture. While neither treatment is painful, patients are more likely to note increased pressure with dry needling as compared to acupuncture. This is because dry needling focuses on alleviating tense muscles. Since tense muscles tend to be achy already, inserting the needle can cause brief discomfort. 

As with acupuncture, it’s not unusual to bleed slightly when a dry needle is inserted. This is typically no more than a drop or two and isn’t a cause for concern. In fact, a small droplet of blood at the site of the needle can actually be a good sign. It indicates an increase in circulation to the affected muscle, which means the needle is doing its job!

Even though the sensation is more noticeable with dry needling, the overall treatment is much shorter than acupuncture because the needles used in dry needling don’t stay in as long. At the end of your dry needling procedure, you may notice bruising, similar to if you had gotten an injection — although it’s worth mentioning that dry needles are labeled “dry” because they do not inject any fluids. Bruising is more likely in patients who are taking blood thinners. If you are taking any medications, be sure to let your acupuncturist know before treatment. 

What makes dry needling so effective?

Dry needling is a non-invasive treatment method that works by kickstarting the body’s ability to heal itself. When our muscles become overtaxed, they may contract and fail to fully relax again. This causes pain and stiffness that can make using the muscles almost impossible. By simply causing the tight muscles to twitch, dry needling gently encourages the tension to be released, providing near-instant pain relief

As the dry needle is inserted, this causes a rush of blood to flood the muscle fibers below. This increase in circulation brings oxygen and other valuable materials to the injured tissues, where they help quell inflammation and promote healing

Another reason why dry needling is such an effective treatment is that it triggers the release of endorphins. These neurotransmitters bind to the opioid receptors in the brain which increases the body’s pain threshold. Additionally, endorphins have a mood-enhancing effect, promoting feelings of euphoria, which can also help patients cope with pain. 

Is dry needling better than acupuncture?

When it comes to acupuncture and dry needling, neither treatment option is better than the other. It all depends on your health and wellness goals. In some cases, a combination of both methods works best. 

For anyone who wants to reduce stress, get better sleep, boost energy levels, and improve circulation and oxygen flow throughout the body, acupuncture would be the best route. Acupuncture is a fantastic all-natural therapeutic practice that supports your overall well-being. It’s something that anyone can benefit from.

But if you’re dealing with a specific pain issue, like sciatica or frozen shoulder, dry needling can zero in on the problem and provide area-specific relief. Dry needling is a great treatment option for musculoskeletal issues. Whether you need help healing a sports injury or random aches, like neck pain and lower back pain, dry needling can alleviate the stiffness, allowing for improved flexibility and increased range of motion.

It’s worth noting that dry needling can also be helpful for treating neurological symptoms, and this goes back to the treatment’s ability to stimulate the release of endorphins. Patients struggling with migraines, depression, and anxiety can also benefit from regular dry needling sessions.  

What can you expect from your first dry needling appointment?

During your initial dry needling appointment, you can expect to feel some degree of relief right away. You should notice an improvement in mobility immediately. But, depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may need several treatments to get long-lasting improvement. Your acupuncturist will help you determine how often you’ll need to be treated

Be sure to dress appropriately for your appointment. Your acupuncturist may ask you to perform a strength test to gain a better understanding of your musculoskeletal issues. This allows them to pinpoint the source of your pain so they can treat it efficiently. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing that allows you to bend and flex easily. 

If you’re curious about trying dry needling, but nervous because you don’t know what to expect, we’re here to answer any questions you may have. At Lycoming Orthopedic & Sports Acupuncture, we make your first dry needling session a breeze. Our qualified acupuncturists will work with you to identify the underlying cause of your pain and to create a treatment plan that works for you. Contact our offices today to book your first dry needling appointment and finally find relief for your muscle pain.

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