Dry Needling FAQ

By San Francisco Acupuncture Group -

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is the use of fine needles to stimulate the repair of highly sensitive muscle or fascia fibers that are causing pain. Whether the result of sitting at a desk for too long, overuse or trauma from a sport or other activity, or from day-to-day stress, injury to muscle and connective tissue is the most common cause and contributor to pain.

The needle gently stimulates the highly reactive fibers, or trigger points, along with surrounding tissue, often eliciting a “light twitch” (reflex) response and provoking the sensitive fibers to respond by protecting and repairing themselves.

Is dry needling safe?

The technique of dry needling has been used for many decades (and acupuncture for over two millennia). Numerous large-scale safety studies—comprising over a million treatments in one study alone—have shown that adverse events are very rare, usually consisting of local soreness or swelling, and demonstrating conclusively the procedure’s safety.

Does it hurt?

Dry needling involves the stimulation of sensitive muscle fibers, which can feel uncomfortable and may result in soreness for a day or more following the treatment. For most patients the procedure is a piece of cake, and well worth the significant relief and repair of injury that it produces.

What is the course of treatment?

As with everything in the body, it depends on the severity of the problem and how a patient’s body responds to the procedure. A typical course is one to two times a week for 4-6 weeks, followed by a re-evaluation.

In addition to dry needling, a plan of care may include other modalities that might help one’s particular injury. As integrative medical providers, we use multiple techniques to care for patients, such as laser therapy, massage, biofeedback, and electric stimulation. We are committed to positive outcomes for our patients, and we use techniques and practices that will produce the best results, including referrals to other medical providers when appropriate.

Dry needling sounds like acupuncture: What’s the difference?

While dry needling and acupuncture use the same implements—extremely fine needles—the development of dry needling was not influenced by acupuncture; the practices are independent of one another, employing different theories and techniques. In short, dry needling is focused on restoring healthy anatomy and physiology through stimulation of injured local muscle tissue, while acupuncture seeks to normalize the flow along meridians. Many sites for dry needling overlap with acupuncture points (while many do not), but the criteria that define point locations and the needle techniques are very different between the two practices. At SFA Group, we are experts in both acupuncture and dry needling, and we are supportive of both practices, often combining them to maximum effect.

What is the history of dry needling and why haven’t I heard of it before?

The origins of dry needling stretch back to the early 1800s, with the work of Balfour, Valleix, Helleday and others who described muscular sources of pain. By the 1930s and ‘40s, “trigger points” and the most common patterns of pain referral had been well described. But it was in the 1950s that Janet Travell, best known as physician to President Kennedy, along with David Simons and others, began investigating injections (“wet needling”) to numb and deactivate trigger points to eliminate pain. However, their experiments soon revealed that it wasn’t the injected medicine, but the needle itself that caused the healing. Through the 60s and 70s they continued their groundbreaking work, publishing numerous books and developing a comprehensive methodology. In the time since we began practicing the technique over 15 years ago, there has been an explosion of research and interest in dry needling, especially as the risks and limitations of common treatment options for pain have been shown, and there is more demand for dry needling now than ever before.

What conditions get the best results with dry needling?

The majority of pain conditions involve muscle and soft tissue injury, even in cases in which it’s not the primary cause. Anyone with unresolved pain should be evaluated to find out if dry needling can help them. The technique is especially effective for stressed, strained, overused, or overloaded muscles, but has also been shown to improve chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia. Results vary depending upon individual responses: some people respond quickly, while others take longer to get full relief.

Some common injuries we treat are:

How long have you been doing dry needling?

At San Francisco Acupuncture Group, we’ve been successfully practicing dry needling for over 15 years and have confidence in the technique to help patients. One thing that is important to know about muscle and fascia pain is that very often it is referred pain. For example, the most common cause of pain in the temples is a point at the top of the muscle between the shoulder and the neck (the upper trapezius). Our group thoroughly evaluates patients and investigates where the precise causes of pain are, focusing our attention there to fix the muscles and bring relief. The result is not just eliminating pain, but also improving mobility and activity after healing.

Posted in Pain Care