Athletes of all levels endure bodily stress in pursuit of better fitness. Such is mandatory for a leaner, stronger build. While you may not feel the wear and tear right away, it will undoubtedly become something you have to acknowledge sooner or later. There are several ways to deal with said wear and tear, like massage and cupping. Something else athletes turn to is dry needling, yet it remains a mystery to many.
Dry needling is a technique where thin needles are inserted in areas where throbbing, pain or tightness is felt, penetrating up until the muscular level, to treat the symptom. The needles can reach the muscles (“trigger points”) directly, where the therapist can’t manually go. No medication or injectable enters the patient aside from the needle, hence the term “dry.”
Although it sounds like acupuncture, the two are not the same. Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine, and dry needling is part of modern Western medicine. Also, acupuncture is largely based around the goal of balancing one’s energies out.
Some research suggests that dry needling can be an effective method for pain relief and certain types of sports performance.
Does Dry Needling Work?
Although people can have a different experience with the recovery method, the short answer is yes, it can work — and science agrees. One 2017 study compared dry needling with steroid injections in treating people suffering from plantar fasciitis — a common cause of heel pain. Researchers ultimately found that while steroid injections can temporarily alleviate some of the pain, they don’t do anything long-term or to address the cause. However, dry needling was found to be a long-term solution that brought relief (1).
The positive effects don’t end there, either. Research also has evidence demonstrating dry needling can help treat myofascial pain syndrome involving the quadratus femoris (2). Ut can reduce pain and sensitivity, along with the number of trigger points, in people with chronic lower back pain due to a lumbar disc hernia (3). Furthermore, it can help improve headaches, trigger point tenderness and cervical range of motion (4).
Even if you’re not experiencing pain or discomfort, you still stand to benefit from it. In one study, researchers compared the effects of dry needling on participants’ ability to do a two-legged vertical jump. Those who received one bout of it increased their jump by 1.2 inches over those who did not receive it (5). In other words, dry needling can simply be something you use to complement your training (but remember, it’s not a replacement for hard work!).
Whether your sport is functional fitness, Olympic weightlifting or something else entirely, you could possibly benefit from dry needling.
What Else Might It Help With?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, dry needling could help improve with:
- Spinal problems.
- Disk complications.
- Joint problems.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Migraines and tension headaches.
What is Dry Needling With E-Stim?
While this treatment can work on its own, sometimes, physical therapists will add electrical stimulation (e-stim). This means that a low-frequency electrical current moves through the dry needle to help speed up the process. Doing so can further increase blood flow, which helps fight inflammation and speed the healing process.
Does Dry Needling Hurt?
Understandably, many people hear the word “needle” and run in the opposite direction. Everyone’s experience is unique, but generally, the treatment is only mildly uncomfortable. In fact, you might not really feel anything at all.
Some people feel slight pain as the physical therapist inserts the needle. They might experience muscle twitch or contraction. You might also experience mild discomfort for a day or so after receiving treatment. However, such is the case with many types of recovery methods — even what was a relaxing massage.
Rest assured this is all normal. In fact, muscle twitches or contractions might even be a sign that the needles are in the right spot and are working their magic to help the muscles relax and heal. Regardless, any pain you’re feeling should go away within 24 to 48 hours.
Whether you’re experiencing intense soreness, you’re coming back from injury, limited range of motion is inhibiting you or you simply want to up your game, talk to a reputable physical therapist you trust who works specifically in dry needling to see how it might help. Note that not all physical therapists do dry needling, and you sure check to make sure yours is certified according to local guidelines.
- “Comparison of dry needling and steroid injection in the treatment of plantar fasciitis: a single-blind randomized clinical trial”, Rastegar, S., et al., 2017.
- “Effect of dry needling on myofascial pain syndrome of the quadratus femoris: A case report”, Anandkumar, S., 2018.
- “Effectiveness of dry needling versus a classical physiotherapy program in patients with chronic low-back pain: a single-blind, randomized, controlled trial”, Tuzun, EH, et al., 2017.
- “Comparison of acute effects of superficial and deep dry needling into trigger points of suboccipital and upper trapezius muscles in patients with cervicogenic headache”, Sedighi, A., et al., 2017.
- “Comparison of dry needling vs. sham on the performance of vertical jump”, Bandy, WD, et al., 2017.