Athletes can develop trigger points, or tight spots within the muscle tissue, due to injury, overuse or dysfunction. Trigger points can cause local pain or “referred pain,” in which the pain travels to other parts of the body.
Dry needling is a physical therapy technique that treats myofascial (muscle) pain. A trained physical therapist inserts a small, solid microfilament needle directly into a trigger point or tight muscle to decrease pain, reduce muscle tension and improve range of motion. It’s called a “dry” needle because it doesn’t inject anything—the needle itself does the work.
Dry needling can help with a variety of diagnoses, including neck, back, shoulder and arm, knee, ankle, hip and headache pain. While we don’t understand precisely how it works, it has been shown to reduce muscle tightness, increase blood flow, and reduce pain. Dry needling uses the same type of tiny needles as acupuncture, but the treatment approach and training are different.
This technique is usually used together with other physical therapy approaches. Most people see results within the first few sessions—sometimes immediately, but usually within hours or days of the first session.