What is dry needling?


What is dry needling?

Dry needling, also known as intramuscular stimulation, is a fairly new modern technique that has been developed to treat musculoskeletal pain.

During a dry needling session, a practitioner will insert several filiform needles into your skin. Filiform needles are fine, short, stainless-steel needles that do not inject any fluids into the body. Hence the term “dry” needling.

When administering this technique, practitioners place the needles in specific trigger points. A trigger point is a knotted or tight band in a muscle fibre that can disrupt function of the entire muscle, restrict its range of motion, and cause pain or tenderness. When dry needling is applied to the affected muscle or trigger point, it can reduce the tightness or tension of the muscle, increase blood flow, and relieve pain.

Dry Needling Techniques:

  • In–and–Out Technique:
    This form dry needling can either be the pistoning or sparrow pecking technique. Both of these techniques rely on in-and-out needle insertion. The needles don’t stay inserted in the skin for a long period, they prick the trigger points and are then removed.


  • Non–Trigger Point Technique:
    Other dry needling techniques treat a broader landscape of the central nervous system. This is called non-trigger point treatment. Instead of inserting needles only in the area of pain, the practitioner may instead insert needles in areas around the point of pain instead of directly on it. This technique relies on the idea that pain is the result of a greater nerve or muscular issue, not just focused in the main area of pain.


The benefits of dry needling include:

  • Providing relief for some muscular pain and stiffness.
  • It may help to improve flexibility and increase range of motion of the affected area.
  • Dry needling can be used to treat sport injuries, muscle pain and fibromyalgia.


The side effects of dry needling:

Mild side effects such as bruising, bleeding at the incision points and temporary soreness are very common with dry needling and the initial treatment may also be slightly painful.
If nonsterile needles are used, you may be at risk of contracting a bloodborne illness, infection, and/or diseases. Ensure your practitioner uses sterile needles and disposes of them safely after each use.

It is important to note dry needling is not the same treatment as acupuncture. They both uses similar tools, but that’s where the parallels end. Dry needling is performed by different practitioners with different training. Acupuncture is based on Eastern medicine, while dry needling is rooted in Western medicine and evaluation of pain patterns, posture, movement impairments, function and orthopaedic tests.

Dry needling treats muscle tissue, with the goal of reducing pain and restoring the function of the affected area. Dry needling is safe to use alongside other medical treatment and is it often part of a broader physical therapy approach which combines other traditional physical therapy interventions into the treatment plan.

Dry needling can be used for a wide variety of musculoskeletal issues, such as shoulder, neck, heel, hip and back pain.


Holland, K., 2018. Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/dry-needling-vs-acupuncture> [Accessed 26 September 2021].

Johnson, K., 2017. On pins and needles: Just what is dry needling?. [online] Mayo Clinic Health System. Available at: <https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/on-pins-and-needles-just-what-is-dry-needling> [Accessed 26 September 2021].