Dr. Mersad Alimoradi 04 Oct 2021

Do you suffer from chronic muscle pain? Trouble with your joints? Pain interfering with all the aspects of your life? Well, you are not alone.

An estimated 1.7 billion people suffer from musculoskeletal pain globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is the leading cause of disability in about 160 countries.

There are many treatments for muscle pain. Medications, surgery, steroid injections, and others. But these all come with risks and a prolonged recovery time. This is why many people are now seeking non-surgical drug-free natural remedies for pain.

One such alternative pain treatment is dry needling. Don’t be fooled by its name. Poking needles into your body may be cringe-worthy, but the benefits will amaze you.

Dry needling helps men and women with various musculoskeletal conditions. It is an effective natural treatment that relieves your muscle pain with minimal downtime and immediate results.

Read through this guide for more details about dry needling and how it can treat your muscle pain.

What Is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a form of physical therapy that uses fine needles inserted into the skin and muscle to trigger healing.

These needles target your myofascial trigger points (MTrP). Trigger points are hyperirritable spots in your muscle that can cause tenderness, chronic pain and even restrict your range of motion.

Karel Lewit of Czechoslovakia first used the modern trigger point dry needling. Lewit coined the term “needle effect.” It refers to the immediate pain relief by needling the pain spot.

During a dry needling session, a medical practitioner inserts these needles into a painful area or tight muscle. It eases the pain, stimulates healing, and restores mobility.

There are different kinds of dry needling for various purposes. Likewise, medical practitioners use the “in and out” and “non-trigger points” techniques.

  • In the “in and out” technique, your practitioner punctures the target muscle directly with the needle. He then removes the needle soon after inserting it into the trigger point.
  • On the other hand, for the “non-trigger points” technique, the needle does not go directly into the knotted muscle. Instead, your practitioner inserts the needles into the peripheral of the affected muscle. This numbers a wider muscle area and is perfect for nonspecific diffuse pain.

Dry needling has been used to treat many types of musculoskeletal pain. However, it is rarely a stand-alone treatment for muscle pain. It works well with different therapies, including physical therapy, heat therapy, and exercise.

What Is The Difference Between Dry Needling And Traditional Acupuncture?

Dry needling and acupuncture are often confused. Both therapies may share some similarities but have very different methods.

Traditional acupuncture is a technique of Chinese medicine that originated eight centuries ago and is primarily based on the philosophy of ‘body energy’- called ‘chi energy’. Traditional healers claim that a disruption in this flow of energy affects the body and causes health problems. So, if an acupuncturist detects any disturbance to this flow, they would needle the affected area, ‘normalizing the body’s energy’. In modern medicine, however, there’s no such thing as ‘body energy’. The effectiveness of acupuncture is rather based on biological and physical effects similar to those achieved with dry needling.

Dry needling is a scientifically-based medical treatment proven to be effective and safe for treating musculoskeletal pain. Dry needling involves deep muscle tissue healing and regeneration by aiming the needles at your myofascial trigger points. It can be thought of as a modernized and well-studied form of acupuncture.

The insertion of the needles then promotes a series of events in your body that lead to therapeutic relief and restoration of muscular function.

With that in mind, dry needling is not synonymous with acupuncture. If you are considering either therapy, consult your doctor for the best treatment option for your pain.

How Does Dry Needling Work?

Dry needling is a technique wherein needles aimed at muscular trigger points to treat neuromuscular pain and impaired movement. Dry needling mechanisms of action remain unclear. However, studies suggest needling triggers a series of biological events that result in pain relief.

  • Vasodilation: Tight and sore muscles are not supplied with enough blood and oxygen because of their contracted state. When your therapist inserts the needle into the knotted muscle, vasodilation or widening occurs in the area’s blood vessels, allowing the nutrients to permeate. This effectively relieves the pain and allows your muscles to relax.
  • Blocks Pain Receptors: A study shows acupuncture analgesia or pain relief occurs after needling. Dry needling sends signals to the brain and triggers the release of neurotransmitters such as dynorphin, endorphin, and enkephalin. These neurotransmitters are the body's natural painkillers. They block the transmission of pain from the pain receptors to the spinal cord and brain.
  • Stimulates Local Twitch Response (LTR): Dry needling acts as a mechanical stimulation that causes LTR. LTR is the involuntary contraction of your muscle fibres, mediated by your spinal cord. When LTR occurs, it reduces the concentration of nociceptive substances, chemicals that help you register pain.
  • Muscle Regeneration: When the dry needle pricks the muscle, it may cause a small focal traumatic lesion. The lesion activates your tissue healing process. It prompts cell migration to the affected area and activates muscle fibre repair or replacement.

The biological effects of dry needling lead to reduced muscle tightness, increased blood flow, and an overall decrease in pain. This is why pain therapists consider dry needling an effective and reliable way to treat musculoskeletal pain right at the source.

What Are The Benefits Of Dry Needling?

Eases Your Pain

A study shows dry needling can treat myofascial pain or chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Deep dry needling can be preferred since it bores deeper into the muscle and connective tissue. In contrast, superficial needling is inserting the needle under the skin or subcutaneous tissue.

Several studies also reveal immediate effects and short-term improvement in pain with only a few sessions.

Relaxes Your Tight Muscles

You may experience pain in the form of a stiff or knotted muscle. It happens when your muscle fibres contract and don’t return to their relaxed state. Stress, injury, pinched nerve, or other abnormalities in your body tend to cause knots and stiffness.

Also called a myofascial trigger point, it can be painful and hard to move as the muscle lacks oxygenated blood. Dry needling relaxes the myofascial trigger points causing your muscle to twitch. The muscle then goes back to its lengthy state, and natural movement returns.

Restores Your Muscle Function

As dry needling eases your trigger points, the muscle becomes less stiff or tense. As a result, proper mobility and range of motion are achieved.

Athletes, in particular, can benefit from dry needling. Their muscles may be injured due to repeated use or incorrect movements over time. Dry needling improves their muscles’ range of motion resulting in better performance.

Speeds Up Your Recovery Time

One of the biological effects of dry needling is vasodilation. As a result, there is an increase in blood flow, and the affected area receives the needed oxygen and nutrients for the muscles to heal.

Moreover, there is minimal downtime as dry needling only takes a few minutes. Generally, people bounce back to their daily routine after the procedure.

Less Costly

Dry needling is a minimally invasive procedure compared to surgery, and it poses a low risk for severe complications. Besides that, dry needling is more affordable. The reasonable cost makes it more accessible to those looking for a pain management treatment that’s worth the price.

An added plus, patients do not have to shell out cash for hospital admissions.

What Conditions Does Dry Needling Treat?

Dry needling treats tissue level pain in and around the source. However, it is mainly used as a part of a treatment plan that likely includes manual therapy, exercise, or other pain management methods.

Dr needling can treat pain in any part of the body from head to toe. Whether it be in your tissues, joints, or even bones connected to your muscles. Health practitioners use dry needling to treat these musculoskeletal conditions:

  • Acute and chronic injuries
  • Headaches
  • Knee pain
  • Hip pain
  • Neck pain
  • Low back pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle strains
  • Tendinitis, inflamed tendons
  • Sciatica, pain in your leg caused by an irritated sciatic nerve
  • Fibromyalgia, extensive musculoskeletal pain

Am I A Candidate For Dry Needling?

People with muscle pain have the option to undergo dry needling. But, we suggest you seek professional medical advice from your doctor. Although dry needling is a safe and effective procedure, it can cause adverse effects when performed on patients with certain conditions.

  • Children under 12 years old
  • Pregnant women
  • Patients recovering from surgery
  • People taking blood-thinners
  • People who are afraid of needles
  • History of adverse reactions to injections, i.e. blood clotting or abnormal bleeding

Is Dry Needling Safe?

Dry needling therapy is proven safe to stimulate tissue healing responses and restore muscle function. Of course, a qualified health practitioner must perform the procedure. Professionals in dry needling always ensure the safety and comfort of their patients.

Practitioners always use sterile needles that are individually packaged for single use. The needles are very fine, and cases of bleeding or bruising are very low.

They use the clean technique as a needle is used only once, and all other equipment is sterilized. Moreover, medical practitioners are extensively trained in dry needling therapy. They know how to detect symptoms, diagnose, and perform the proper techniques to ensure your safety and efficacy of the treatment.

What Are Complications Of Dry Needling?

Adverse effects and complications of dry needing are rare, but there are a few cases you need to know:

  • A study found people may experience common minor side effects, including mild bleeding, bruising, or pain on the needle site after the procedure.
  • You may see red needle marks after dry needling. These marks disappear within a few minutes to hours after needling.
  • You may feel faint, tired, or weak. Stay hydrated, eat, and rest after your needling session.
  • A potentially serious side effect of dry needling is pneumothorax. A needle may accidentally puncture a lung and cause a lung collapse. However, it is limited to areas like the trapezius muscle and is a rare complication.
  • Contracting diseases with nonsterile needles is a common complication when dry needling is not done by a certified professional.


Dry needling can treat various musculoskeletal problems, such as neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, and hip pain. More studies have yet to be conducted to validate its effectiveness. However, the existing evidence reveals it as a fast and safe method for treating and managing pain.

Dry needling aims to inactivate your trigger points and restore your muscle function. Although, therapists often incorporate it into a broader therapy treatment plan. In addition, dry needling has been cited as an inexpensive treatment with little to no risk of serious complications.

To know more about dry needling for your muscle pain, consult your medical provider today.

FAQs about dry needling:

Does dry needling hurt?

You may feel slight discomfort during your session. It is the body’s normal response to twitch as the needle hits the muscle. As the therapy progresses, you may either feel heavy or calm. You may feel muscle tenderness in a day or two after the procedure.

Does dry needling work immediately?

You can feel the improvement within 24 hours after your first dry needling session. However, it usually takes 2 to 3 sessions for lasting results.

How long does the procedure last?

Dry needling takes about 10-30 minutes to perform.

What should you do after the procedure?

Relax and do not overexert or over-stretch your muscles. Drink plenty of water and get enough rest. Refrain from alcoholic drinks and tobacco products. If you feel slight pain or bruising, a cold pack or ice can quickly remedy that.

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About the Author:
Dr. Mersad is a medical doctor, author, and editor based in Germany. He's managed to publish several research papers early in his career. He is passionate about spreading medical knowledge. Thus, he spends a big portion of his time writing educational articles for everyone to learn.


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