Dry needling is the insertion of needles into connective tissue (muscles, tendons, bones and trigger points) and neurovascular bundles (peri-neural and peri-vascular). It has been shown to be effective in relieving pain and disability in a variety of conditions including low back pain, neck pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, knee osteoarthritis, headaches, plantar fascitis, tennis elbow and TMJ dysfunctions. The treatment involves the insertion of dry needles (no medication) into specified regions of the body with the application of electrostimulation to the needles. The needles are most often left in the treatment site for 15-30 minutes in order to allow for effective outcomes.
So how long will it take for the pain to improve? It varies from person-to-person depending on the chronicity and severity, but randomize trials suggest that one should receive treatment 1-2 times per week with 15-30 minute sessions for 8-10 visits for maximum benefits to occur. Will it hurt? The initial insertion of the needle may cause slight pain and a spreading effect, but the sensation typically goes away very quickly. In some cases people do not feel the needle insertions at all. Once the electrostimulation is applied to the needles then the patients do become aware of the needles again, but the level of stimulation is just enough to send the appropriate signals to the central nervous system.
So how does this improve pain? There are different theories explaining how this works and one is the “Gait Theory.” It proposes that the insertion of needles causes increased input into the central mechanism and thus causes the gait to pain to close. Also in some cases a local twitch response is elicited when the needle is inserted into the connective tissue which causes a break in the pain cycle. The research has shown that dry needling is most effective when combined with traditional physical therapy in order to address primary source(s) of pain.