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Dry Needling In Physical Therapy
by ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute, Arlington & Alexandria, VA

In recent years, “dry needling” has emerged as popular treatment for pain. Physical Therapists who use this technique usually incorporate it as an extension to traditional treatment modalities. At this point, it is not clear exactly how it works, but patients and therapists alike report faster recovery. Physical therapy treatments are always changing based on science and evidence-based research, and it is possible that over time dry needling may become a standard practice.

What is Dry Needling?

This is a technique that is used to reduce pain, increase blood flow and aid the healing process of an injury site. The Physical Therapist inserts a needle that is extremely thin or a filiform needle of different sizes (based on the type and location of the “target site”) into the injury site. Painful “trigger points” and/or “motor points” are targeted. These are nodule-like areas in the muscle and soft tissues of the body that are injured.  The procedure involves inserting the needle and manipulating it within the nodule to illicit a response that helps to reduce the size, density and pain level that is associated with the nodule.

Trigger Points

A trigger point has been described in many different ways, and their existence can be controversial depending upon who is discussing the topic.  One of the best explanations of a trigger point can be described using the anatomy of a muscle.  A muscle can be described as a bundle of fibers (muscle cells) similar to noodles.  Each “noodle” or cell has thinner filaments inside and the smallest fibers are called monofilaments.  The monofilaments or actin and myosin are thought to “link” together and form a cross-bridge during a contraction.   This process requires a release of calcium from a network tubules called the Sarcoplasmic Reticulum or SR and the calcium is re-absorbed by the SR when the muscle relaxes.


If the SR is damaged the cross-bridges between the Actin and Myosin can be negatively affected.  The up-take of the calcium might not occur and the cross-bridges cannot release.  Consequently, that portion of the muscle is constantly in a state of contraction.  This area is thought to be a trigger point and the treatment protocol resolves around different ways to enhance blood flow into the injury site.  This increased blood flow helps to heal the damaged SR.

The use of the dry needling technique continues to gain acceptance in the Physical Therapy profession.  The therapists that perform dry needling are staunch supporters of it and swear that their patients “heal” faster, and it works.  That is why Dry needling has gained momentum with professional athletes.  The dry needling technique is usually not performed by itself.   It is a manual technique that can be added to the traditional protocol of exercises and modalities.

To get dry needling treatment for neck pain, back pain, knee pain, hip pain, shoulder pain, elbow and foot pain or any other sprain and strains, post surgery or other musculoskeletal problems, seek the advice of one of the Dry Needling certified Physical Therapists with ACE Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Institute at any of their convenient locations at Arlington / Clarendon, Alexandria, Falls Church / Merrifield, Fairfax / FairOaks, Herndon / Reston, Leesburg / Lansdowne & Tysons / Vienna VA.

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