With the rise of the opioid crisis, more and more individuals and health practitioners have begun to seek safe and natural pain relief solutions with intentions to either replace their current medication regimen, or to complement it. Techniques such as acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care, and hydrotherapy help many people minimize aches and pains without dulling their senses.

Recently, many have turned to a newer technique called dry needling to alleviate both chronic and acute pain. In an effort to educate our readers about dry needling, we have answered some of the most common questions to determine if this alternative treatment may, in fact, work for you.

How does dry needling work?

Dry needling involves the use of micro-thin filiform needles that practitioners inject into trigger points for pain throughout the body. The term “dry” refers to the fact that these needles inject no medications into the skin. Because no medication is delivered, side effects from dry needling are limited to minor bruising or bleeding at the injection site and temporary soreness in the affected areas.

Dry needling works by helping release knots in muscle fibers to ease muscle spasms and associated pain.

The length of an average dry needling session varies depending upon the practitioner’s preferred technique and the degree of muscle tension in the afflicted patient. Fortunately, as the filiform needs are exceedingly thin, many patients report not even knowing the needles are there.

Some practitioners leave needles inserted into trigger points (the areas where knots occur) for several minutes to allow the surrounding muscle tissue to relax deeply. Other practitioners prefer an in-and-out technique where the needle merely pricks the muscle tissue momentarily and then is removed almost instantly. Still, other practitioners insert in areas surrounding the trigger points rather than directly into the knot to allow the nervous system to send messages to muscle fibers to release the spasm.

What conditions does dry needling treat?

Dry needling can help alleviate a myriad of pain conditions. From temporary sports-related injuries to chronic ailments such as arthritis, chronic back pain, and fibromyalgia, the conditions dry needling can aid in treating make it very similar to acupuncture. Some practitioners claim dry needling also helps improve blood flow and boosts neurological functioning, although little evidence exists to support these claims.

Typical patients require approximately two to three dry needling sessions performed within the same week. In general, this one week of sessions alleviates pain from acute injuries completely. Those suffering from chronic conditions may benefit from additional (even weekly) sessions for an extended period to keep pain at bay.

How do dry needling and acupuncture compare?

While dry needling and acupuncture share many similarities, the two techniques nevertheless have significant differences. Unlike dry needling, acupuncture focuses not on trigger points, but rather on the chi (or energy) meridians running throughout the body. Acupuncturists believe that bringing these energy channels back into proper balance makes pain disappear, or at least lessen to a more bearable level.

The ancient practice of acupuncture began thousands of years ago in Asia. Dry needling, on the other hand, first came into vogue just a few short decades ago.

While licensed physical therapists and sports trainers often receive some training in dry needling, no one governing board exists that sets standards for practitioner education and licensure. On the other hand, acupuncture requires practitioners to attend a two-year long educational program, followed by additional training under a master acupuncturist before treating patients on their own. Also, acupuncturists must comply with all state licensing requirements.

Finally, while dry needling focuses only on alleviating musculoskeletal pain and muscle spasms, acupuncture can relieve a broader range of ailments. Many people report that acupuncture helps treat depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal illnesses, and migraines.

What should you expect from your first session?

Those headed to their first dry needling session require few preparations other than making sure their bodies are clean to prevent infection. Expect each treatment to take approximately 30 minutes. Prices vary by practitioner, although most dry needling procedures cost $50 or less per session.

Those suffering from painful conditions need every tool available in their arsenal to return their bodies to health, and dry needling complements other pain-relieving therapies such as massage and medication. Those plagued with muscle spasms and other musculoskeletal injuries and conditions would do well to give dry needling a try. There’s truly nothing to lose but the pain!

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