As many of you may already know, I recently became certified in dry needling through American Academy of Manipulative Therapy: Spinal Manipulation Institute & Dry Needling Institute. Now, what does this actually mean? Two weekend courses, six days total, fifty-four hours of coursework, ending with written and practical exams. These courses were then followed by many hours of studying and practicing techniques.  Fortunately for me, I was able to take my classes down in New Orleans, so I was able to have a few beignets and Café Au Lait’s to get me through!

So the big question of the day: what is dry needling? Dry needling is a technique that uses a thin monofilament needles to treat a variety of neuromuscular conditions in order to reduce pain, improve mobility, and improve function. Although the needles are very similar to acupuncture, dry needling is NOT the same as acupuncture. Acupuncture follows a traditional Chinese medicine approach with the intent of altering the flow of Qi, or energy, along meridians within the body.

As a Western medicine approach, dry needling can be used to treat muscles, tendons, musculotendinous junctions, along with bone and perineural regions. Most commonly used or heard of, is trigger point dry needling, which I will discuss further later on. You may hear us talk about different techniques we can perform with the needles in order to stretch the tissue, stimulate the trigger point, normalize nerve function, and promote more blood flow in the area to assist with the healing process. Typically, we also pair dry needling with electrical stimulation during treatment to assist with pain relief through an analgesic effect, as well as further increasing blood flow in the area to help the healing process. 

As I stated earlier, one of the most common reasons to use dry needling is to treat trigger points. Trigger points are hyperirritable points within taut bands of muscle in our body that often restrict mobility and cause pain. At a cellular level, the soft tissue near a trigger point becomes more acidic and the nerves become sensitized, meaning generally more sensitive, making the area sore and painful. By using a needling to stimulate a trigger point and getting a twitch response, this allows the muscle to relax and promote optimal healing through increasing blood flow in the area and promoting an inflammatory healing process. 

Recently coming from Washington state, a state in which that physical therapists do not have the jurisdiction to perform dry needling, it has been an eye-opening experience to see how beneficial this technique is for patients! I have already seen that even with only 1 treatment session, patients report significant relief of symptoms and improved ease of mobility! I have seen these results with chronic pain and latent trigger points, as well as acute injury and muscle spasms. Now those are some encouraging results that are hard to ignore! 

 Diagnoses that can be treated with dry needling include:

  • Headaches
  • Cervical radiculopathy
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Lateral epicondylalgia (Tennis Elbow)
  • Temporomandibular dysfunction
  • Chronic shoulder pain
  • Low back pain
  • Lumbar radiculopathy
  • Hip dysfunction and osteoarthritis
  • Knee osteoarthritis and knee pain
  • Achilles tendinosis
  • Shin Splints
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • And SO MUCH MORE!!!! 

As you can see, dry needling can be used for a variety of reasons to treat a long list of diagnosis and impairments. With that said, dry needling is not appropriate for everyone and it is important that you have a thorough evaluation by your physical therapist prior to discussing if this technique is appropriate for you. Here at Active Recovery, we ensure a detailed evaluation prior to discussing the best treatment options for you. 

If you have any questions regarding this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out to us today! Also, go check out our Instagram and Facebook for videos going into more detail of trigger point dry needling treatments.

As always, stay safe and stay active! 


Lauryn Helmers


Active Recovery Physical Therapy