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Published on August 02, 2019

What is Dry Needling and Will It Make My Pain Go Away?

Dry NeedlingNagging pains in the neck, back, or anywhere in the body are wearying and exhausting. People who wake up with a “crick” in their neck from sleeping in an awkward position, who experience neck pain and stiffness after a car accident, or who have lasting back pain that doesn’t go away may benefit from a treatment called dry needling. Most of the time, pains can be worked out with normal movements, exercise and the tincture of time, but when a stubborn and sensitive pain area just won’t go away, dry needling is one tool that a physical therapist can use to try to reset the painful tissues.

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I encountered dry needling personally after my first half-marathon run. A PT had a booth set up near the finish line. I had been suffering with pain in my upper back that just would not go away no matter what I did. The therapist listened to my story, did an assessment, and I agreed to a dry needling treatment. With that, my upper back pain was greatly reduced, and after continuing with stretches and exercise I was soon pain free. I knew then I needed to get training in this kind of treatment to help my patients at Cone Outpatient Rehab.

The practice of dry needling (also called intramuscular manual therapy, trigger point dry needling or functional dry needling) has been around for decades, though its use has more recently become widespread. The history of dry needling dates to the 1940s. Dr. Janet Travell, a cardiologist and pain physician (and personal physician to President John Kennedy) identified muscular trigger points and pain referral patterns using wet needling, or the insertion of medication-laden needles into the tissue. Later she discovered that dry needling offered the same results. This was groundbreaking work! She and Dr. David Simon carefully identified most of the trigger points located in the human body, which physical therapists have since used to treat muscle pain.

Today, dry needling is defined as a treatment using a thin needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate trigger points and painful tissue. It is used by physical therapists to decrease painful input from muscle and connective tissues, restore function and increase activity participation. To use this technique, PTs must go to continuing medical education and can then become certified. Dry needling is recognized by the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapy’s professional and accrediting organization.

About the Author

Lawrie Bearsdsley, PT, CEEAALawrie Beardsley PT, CEEAA is a physical therapist with Cone Health Outpatient Orthopedic Rehabilitation at Greensboro