You are recently injured (or chronically injured), and one of your colleagues mentioned you should try dry needling. You may be wondering “what is dry needling?” (See my blog post on how dry needling works) Or maybe you are willing to try anything if it works, but want to know “will dry needling work on my injury?”
Functional Dry Needling (FDN), Trigger Point Dry Needling (TDN), or Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) involves the insertion of a thin, filament-like needle past the skin and into muscle tissue. There are two main objectives with dry needling, depending on the nature of your injury. If the muscle is tense or tight, such as with a strain or trigger point, it can reset the muscle back to its regular resting muscle tone. If the muscle is under-active, or has trouble contracting, the twitch response can help get the muscle firing again. You can think of this twitch like a computer reboot for your muscle.
Because dry needling has two types of effects, there is a wide range of conditions it can help with. Some examples are muscle strains, muscle spasms, tightness, trigger points, tendon injuries, referred pain, muscle tightness that is compressing a nerve, unstable / loose joints, and chronic pain.
How many sessions you will need depends on the cause of the injury. For example, if you fell off your mountain bike, and it caused a muscle spasm in your back, it may take only one or two sessions of dry needling to resolve the issue. Since it was an isolated event that caused the injury, you likely won’t require much treatment beyond those two sessions (note: dry needling should be used in combination with other treatment techniques. In this example, you should use a personalized home exercise program at a minimum to help you recover to your full abilities). In another example, if you are repeatedly lifting weights wrong at the gym, or holding your toddler wrong, and the bad technique is causing some muscle tension or strain, you may get relief from the pain with one or two sessions of dry needling, but you will also need to fix the lifting or carrying problem and even out any muscle imbalances before you will resolve the pain completely. Note that in both examples you will notice changes in one or two sessions of dry needling. Yes, it is that instantaneous. If you don’t feel a change with dry needling after 2 or 3 sessions, it likely isn’t going to be the treatment technique for you.
If you have chronic pain, dry needling will not resolve your pain; however, it may be used as part of your pain management strategy to help you cope. Physical therapy best practices for chronic pain should focus on movement, exercise, education, and techniques that provide useful strategies to address fears, build activity tolerances, and improve quality of life.
Dry needling can work like magic for some people, it should not be used in isolation, and will not work for all people or injuries. Speak to your doctor and physical therapist to see if dry needling is a treatment technique that could help your recovery.