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The Benefits of Dry Needling

If you are living with chronic pain, you might want to consider dry needling therapy. Dry needling is a physical therapy intervention used to target muscle banding or knots.

In this segment, Stoughton Hospital physical therapist, Liz Touchett, discusses Dry Needling, and the benefits it can offer those that suffer from chronic pain.
The Benefits of Dry Needling
Featured Speaker:
Liz Touchett
Liz Touchett is the Rehab Services Manager with Stoughton Hospital.

Melanie Cole (Host): If you’re living with chronic pain, you might want to consider Dry Needling Therapy. Dry Needling is a physical therapy intervention used to target muscle branding or knots, and it’s a technique used by physical therapists to treat many types of pain. My guest today, is Liz Touchett. She’s the Rehab Services Manager at Stoughton Hospital. Welcome to the show, Liz. What is Dry Needling?

Liz Touchett (Guest): Well, thank you for inviting me here today. Just like your introduction said, it is a skilled intervention – that it’s performed by physical therapists – where we use a thin, filiform needle, which is just a thin, solid needle. We go in after a muscle trigger point to release that with the intention of restoring function, increasing range of motion for our patients who have those restrictions.

Melanie: So it doesn’t inject any fluid into the body, right? That’s why it’s called dry?

Liz: Correct. Yes, dry needling stemmed from trigger point injections, which was something that was done back in the day where they were injecting chemicals to reduce pain. They’ve gone away from that because the needle is what’s doing that physiologic change. They’ve gone to Dry Needling, and therapists have been doing that since.

Melanie: What is the difference between Acupuncture and Dry Needling?

Liz: I think the biggest difference is the intention. Acupuncture is a wonderful technique, but they use – they’re trying to restore different energies, which is something that’s more based on an Eastern Medicine approach, where Dry Needling is definitely a Western Medicine where we go through and evaluate the movements, and then we’re targeting the muscles that have these restrictions. We’re trying to release that knot that’s causing that limit in their range of motion.

Melanie: Typically – and I’m an exercise physiologist, so we use our thumbs or massage therapists get in there to those knotted, hard muscles and jam in there. What is the needle doing that’s different than, let’s say an acupressure or a deep tissue massage?

Liz: I think two things. One, it gets in a little bit nicer than really trying to dig in at those muscles. My needles will allow it to go deeper so that those muscles that we with our hand have to go through multiple layers of muscles, the needle can just go right through and hit those deeper tissues. The other thing is the needles are metal, and they’re very conductive, and we can pulse a stim through that so that we can get a little bit of a current to help release that muscle knot, which is very comfortable for the patients that I have been treating with that.

Melanie: What about side effects? Is there bruising or temporary sore – because if you get a deep tissue massage, getting in there on those knots, that can be quite painful, as you said, and painful after the fact too.

Liz: Yes, there’s -- some patients bruise, but it’s usually only pinpoint bruising. It’s not like they’ve gone through and have a giant, larger bruising from it. There is a difference. They feel a little achy or sore from the treatment, but nothing that lasts beyond usually 24 hours. Most of the patients see the benefits almost immediately of the increase in range of movement so that achiness from the needle treatment is minor. They’re just so happy that they’re moving better.

Melanie: Acupuncture, we’ve heard sometimes you have to go every week, or you have to go for eight weeks or whatever. What about Dry Needling? How often does a patient need to come to really make a difference?

Liz: I think it truly is based on how the patient presents. Some of the patients who have had these issues for a long time that are very, very chronic, it’s going to take a little longer than someone who had an acute issue that came up. Typically, I will tell the patients is that I’d like to treat once a week for four weeks and we’ll see where we’re at from that point. Most people, I would say, get a nice initial response within the first two sessions, and then we’re just trying to see what’s lingering and what we have to fix. Dry Needling is just one piece of the physical therapy process, and I’m a big believer that we have to sort out the why they got there in the first place. If we can figure out that why and make sure that that’s not causing these trigger points to return, I think then we get the best outcome for the patient.

Melanie: Let’s talk about that for a minute. What types of pain are you working with? Sometimes people get those knots, Liz, from stress. They get them up in their shoulders and up near their neck. They get them really all over the place, so what types of pain are you dealing with? Is stress one of those things?

Liz: I would wholeheartedly say that stress is one of them. I do a lot of upper trap trigger point release for patients in that situation. The things that we look at beyond just releasing that trigger point tension in their traps is looking at their posture. If it’s a stress situation with the work environment, we really want to look at what they’re sitting in, how their computer is set up, so that those issues – their posture, their function for what they do with their job, isn’t causing the recurrence of those trigger points. If it is related to truly just stress, then we have to go into other techniques to help them with their stress management, not just releasing those trigger points because it will be chronic at that point.

Melanie: And you mentioned other types of physical therapy, so where does Dry Needling fit into this rehab plan and how do you incorporate it? If it is upper traps, as you say, or they carry their knots and stress there – wherever their pain is how does that that incorporate for a total rehab plan?

Liz: Yeah, a lot of times we’ll do a home exercise program for the patients, which will include stretching and strengthening of the other muscles so that those traps don’t have to work as hard as they’ve been working. The Dry Needling is that piece that helps give them that pain relief a little bit faster than doing an ultrasound or just manual therapy. I think doing some soft tissue work, and some joint mobilization also helps complement the benefit of releasing that tension with the dry needling.

Melanie: Wrap it up for us, Liz, with your best advice for people that are considering this as a form or adjunct to their other physical therapy, what you want them to know about Dry Needling, and why they should come to Stoughton Hospital for their care?

Liz: I think Dry Needling has so many benefits as far as releasing those muscle bands or those trigger points. It increases blood flow to help promote the soft tissue healing in that area, and it really helps calm down more globally that pain that they’ve been just living with for so long and allowing them to restore that function to get back into their normal activities. I think because Dry Needling just does it a little bit in that they get an immediate response, I think that helps then the progression throughout the whole rehab process.

Melanie: Well, certainly, when they feel those kinds of results right away – like even from a chiropractic treatment – then that continues and helps them to motivate to keep going and keep getting these types of therapy.

Liz: Exactly. I just feel that the dry needling really gets them that movement that they want, which then enables them to do the home exercises and the stretches and their normal daily activities that they were holding back on.

Melanie: Thank you, so much, Liz. It’s great information and is such an interesting topic. You’re listening to Stoughton Hospital Health Talk, and for more information, you can go to That’s This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much, for listening.