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Dry Needling: Will it work? Everything you need to know

dry needling
Photo: Wikimedia

Dry needling therapy

In recent years there has been an increased practice of dry needling by physiotherapists, osteopaths, and doctors.

Although it seems very much like acupuncture – it uses the same impossibly thin needles and offers pain relief – it is not.

The difference between acupuncture and dry needling is that with acupuncture, needles are placed into precise points along specific pathways called meridians and are left there for a period of time.

With dry needling, a patient will point to a painful area. The physical therapist will insert a needle, then remove it (without the needle retention used in acupuncture).

The purpose of each insertion is to reach a trigger point, causing a muscle to twitch.

Its aim is to loosen tight muscles, improve joint motion and to help boost the body’s healing response after injury.

It can be helpful in treating a variety of conditions including:

  • A headache and migraine
  • Neck and back pain
  • Shoulder pain – rotator cuff injury, bursitis, and impingement
  • Tennis Elbow or Golfers Elbow
  • Carpal Tunnel, De Quervain’s Synovitis
  • Hip pain – bursitis, tendinitis/tendinopathy, pain management in arthritis
  • Knee pain – pain management for OA or degenerative meniscal tears
  • Ankle/foot – plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinopathy
  • Haematoma (cork thigh or deep bruising)

Does dry needling work?

A number of professional athletes have adopted the practice to promote faster healing and swear by it.

Among them is Myles Turner, a basketball player who plays in the NBA for the Indiana Pacers.

He recently said that dry needling helped him deal with knee soreness.

“When I first got into the league, I had tendonitis and my knees were bothering me pretty bad,” Turner told

“One day, my trainer just started dry-needling my quad. My knee instantly felt better, it was a lot looser. Now, anytime I get knee tightness, I do it and I see the benefits of it immediately.”

New England Patriots linebacker James Harrison also uses dry needling for lower back pain.

Harrison had back surgery after the 2010 season to correct a herniated disc. The dry needle helped him play a full season that year successfully postponing the surgery by alleviating muscle tension around the disc.

“Dry needling hurts, but for me, the hurt is worth it,” he said.

It’s worth noting that not every athlete who has tried it has seen results. Some players experimented with it and determined it’s not for them.

For example, Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard JJ Redick said that he didn’t continue the treatment because he wasn’t convinced of its efficacy.

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“I have tried it a few times,” Redick says, “but I was pretty indifferent toward it,” he said.

Dry needling for plantar fasciitis

Heel pain (or Plantar Fasciitis) is the most common foot complaint, experienced by thousands of Americans every day.

dry needling for plantar fasciitis

Scott Epsley, a certified musculoskeletal sonographer who treats professional athletes, says he frequently treats runners with plantar fasciitis using dry needling.

“It causes muscles to relax, blood flow to increase, and the body’s natural healing process to activate,” he says. “Once the trigger point is released, the muscle quickly begins to contract and function normally.”

Dry needling physical therapy

Dry needling is available worldwide, but a few states in the US do not currently allow physical therapists and medical professionals other than licensed acupuncturists to use it.

This has nothing to do with its safety. It is because of an ongoing battle between physical therapists and acupuncturists.

The medical board in these states concluded that dry needling is, in fact, acupuncture. Therefore, it can only be performed by licensed acupuncturists and MDs.

Dry needling side effects

Dry needling is appropriate for nearly all patients. The most common side effects include bruising, bleeding, and temporary soreness.

Hygiene is important as needling can produce minor bleeding.

Current standards of care in the United States recommend preparing the skin with 70% isopropyl alcohol prior to using a sterile needle. The practitioner should also use gloves during the intervention.

Dry needling cost

The average cost of dry needling is between $35-$45 per session.

Insurance may cover it in some instances but in most cases, it won’t.