What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling is a skilled technique performed by a physical therapist with advanced training to help release muscle tension and pain.
Is Dry Needling the Same as Acupuncture?
Short answer is: No. It is NOT the same thing despite using the same tool (a thin filiform needle.) If a physical therapist does a manipulation technique to the spine, is it the same as chiropractic? No.
"There is a clear distinction between the Western scientific principles that underpin the use of dry needling by physical therapists for the diagnosis and treatment of neuromusculoskeletal conditions and the traditional Chinese, Oriental or East Asian medicine framework that governs the use of needles without injectate by "acupuncturists" for the diagnosis and treatment of all 10 organ systems. According to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy dry needling is a "skilled technique performed by a physical therapist using filiform needles to penetrate the skin and/or underlying tissues to affect change in body structures and functions for the evaluation and management of neuromusculoskeletal conditions, pain, movement impairments, and disability."
"Dry needling neither attempts to move energy or "qi" along meridians, nor does it rely on diagnoses from traditional Chinese acupuncture or Oriental medicine. Dry needling also relies on Western medical diagnoses such as chronic neck pain, plantar fasciitis, knee osteoarthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome, instead of traditional Chinese, Oriental, or East Asian medicine diagnoses such as bi syndrome, qi, blood stagnation, and kidney yang deficiency." (Dry Needling and Acupoints: Physical Therapists and Medical Physicians Should be Familiar with Acupoint Nomenclature and Locations, Dr. James Dinning, DPT, MSc, OCS, FAAOMPT, Dip, Osteopractic, MMACP (UK) MAACP (UK)
Instead of the therapist using his/her hands to work on the dysfunctional structures, a needle is used to help "reset" the tissue to a more normal state so that it can be properly retrained with exercise.
Does it Hurt?
The whole point of the technique is to REDUCE pain, not to cause pain.
Pain is different than soreness or discomfort.
You typically feel some muscle or tissue soreness for 24-48 hours after being needled, kind of like the soreness you feel after working out or doing a new activity (i.e. after skiing for the first time each year).
You might feel a temporary increase in your "normal" pain that you deal with on a daily basis (i.e. referral headache into your head from your neck muscles). This is usually a good sign to both you and your therapist because it confirms the therapist's diagnosis on which muscles/structures are causing the pain.
Electrical stimulation, gentle massage, the use of heat or ice packs, and exercise will help decrease the symptoms.
PAIN is replaced by temporary MUSCLE SORENESS.
How Does it Work?
It affects a number of systems and things that have big, fancy, and confusing names! (If you want the technical explanation, your therapist can print it out for you. :))
It basically helps to "reset" chemical, mechanical, electrophysiological, and neurophysiological abnormalities in your body.
This allows for a more effective "retraining" of the dysfunctional structures in order to decrease the hypersensitivity and "Pain Cycle" that you have been in.
It doesn't work (at least to the degree it could) unless you pair dry needling with corrective exercises, postural awareness, and changes in your body mechanics.