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What is Dry Needling in Physical Therapy?

What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling physical therapy involves using a very thin needle (similar to an acupuncture needle) to penetrate the skin and target specific muscles and fascia. The main reason to use dry needling is to release very tight segments of muscles to reduce pain and improve the muscle’s mobility. These tight bands of muscle are called trigger points and are usually tender to touch and can refer pain to other muscles in the body.

Dry needling has increased in popularity over the past decade as the scope of physical therapy practice has expanded. It is important to point out that dry needling is completely unrelated to acupuncture although the two practices use a similar needle. Acupuncturists, as a part of Chinese medicine, target specific points on the skin to cause desired effects on the body. Dry needling is a part of western medicine and is backed by research on its effectiveness.

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What Can Dry Needling Treat?

Have you ever tried to massage one of your muscles and noticed that it felt very stiff and tender compared to other muscles around it? This is quite common with injuries, overuse of muscles, and tension from stress. These stiff spots in muscles could benefit from trigger point dry needling.

Dry needling works to smooth out muscles by stimulating the area where nerves signal to muscles (called the motor end plate). This effectively loosens tight muscles, accelerates healing by returning your muscles to normal function, and lowers the sensitivity of the muscle so you feel less pain.

Physical therapists use trigger point dry needling as a part of a larger treatment plan to speed muscle recovery along. That means they might spend the first ten minutes of your PT session on dry needling trigger points and spend the remainder of the session educating you about pain and teaching important exercises to reduce your muscle tension in the long term.

Common muscle groups that respond well to dry needling are the upper trapezius, the calves, and the muscles in the low back. You may also benefit from electrical dry needling, which uses two needles along a muscle to stimulate the muscle to achieve tension relief. Dry needling is never a stand alone treatment in physical therapy and works best when combined with exercise and movement.

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What to Expect from Your Physical Therapist

Physical therapists are among the most educated healthcare professionals on the anatomy and physiology of the musculoskeletal system, that is the structure of the bones, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Physical therapists earn a clinical doctorate degree and then also pursue training required per state to be certified to perform trigger point dry needling physical therapy. You may inquire how much experience and what training your physical therapist has in dry needling before your appointment.

The actual procedure involves several steps to ensure safety and effectiveness. First, your physical therapist will wear gloves, expose the skin over the target muscle, and sanitize the area thoroughly. You may need to change into a gown for access to muscles over your spine. From there, your physical therapist will use a thin needle to penetrate your skin and direct the needle to the targeted muscle for treatment.

He/she will use an up and down motion to hit the muscle several times with the objective of muscle relaxation. You may feel your muscle twitching or a slight pinching sensation, which is typically mild and very tolerable. After the procedure, you will likely practice exercises to reinforce the muscle relaxation and increase in range of motion provided by dry needling. Your physical therapist may repeat this procedure in other sessions, as patients typically feel relief in around three sessions.

It is normal to be a little nervous before your first dry needling session. You should discuss any concerns with your physical therapist, who can assure you further about the safety and benefits of dry needling, so you can feel confident and at ease at your appointment.

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Progressive Physical Therapy

Granada Hills, CA Phone: (818) 996-1725

Peak Physical Therapy

Boise, Idaho Phone: (208) 587-1777

All Star Physical Therapy

Murrieta, CA Phone: (951) 304‑7273

Orthosport Physical Therapy

Culver City, CA Phone: (310) 837-9700

Physical Therapy Care

Fort Bend County, TX Phone:

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Beverly Hills, CA Phone: (310) 273-7800

Precise Physical Therapy

Kansas City, KS Phone: (855) 745-0278

Manual Edge Physical Therapy

Colorado Springs, CO Phone: (719) 694-8342

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The Villages, FL Phone:

Northwest Physical Therapy

Sedro-Wooley, WA Phone: (360) 428-2700

Shea Physical Therapy

Corpus Christi Phone: 361-992-1933

Advanced Physical Therapy

Wichita, KS Phone: (866) 412-5554

Strive Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation

Moorestown, NJ Phone: (800) 903-4142

Elite Physical Therapy

Alexandria, LA Phone: 318-443-3111

Xcel Sports Medicine

Vandalia, OH Phone: 937-890-9235

Colorado in Motion

Fort Collins, CO Phone: (970) 475-8651


Calabasas, CA Phone: (800) 766-7876

Mountain River Physical Therapy

Parkersburg, WV Phone: (304) 865-6778

Preferred Physical Therapy

Kansas City, MO Phone: (866) 412-5554


Columbus, GA
Auburn, AL
Columbia, SC
Phone: (706) 322-7762

Evidence in Motion (EIM)

San Antonio TX Phone: 888-709-7096

Fit for Work

San Antonio, TX Phone: 877-348-4975

Rehab Therapy Works

Spring Hill, FL Phone: (352) 597-8996

Lake Centre for Rehab

The Villages, FL Phone: (352) 728-6636

Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy

Lexington, KY Phone: (859) 264-0512

Confluent Health

Louisville, KY Phone: (502) 442-7697

Tallahassee Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy

Tallahasee, FL Phone: (850) 877-8855


Louisville, KY & Evansville, IN Phone: (888) 591-8280

Physical Therapy Central

Oklahoma City, OK Phone: (866) 866-3893

El Paso Physical Therapy Services

El Paso, Texas Phone: (915) 581-9606

Baton Rouge Physical Therapy

Baton Rouge, LA Phone: (225) 206-5292


Fort Worth, TX Phone: 888-658-8483

Redbud Physical Therapy

Tulsa, OK Phone: (866) 866-3893

Capitol Physical Therapy

Madison, WI Phone: (608) 527-0602

BreakThrough Physical Therapy

Raleigh, NC Phone: (866) 922-0012

Proactive Physical Therapy Specialists

Portland, OR Phone: 866-922-1175

RET Physical Therapy Group

Seattle, Washington Phone: 844-708-7982

Texas Physical Therapy Specialists

Austin TX
San Antonio TX
Phone: 888-658-8483

Pappas OPT Physical, Sports and Hand Therapy

Providence, RI Phone: (401) 205-3423

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