Dry Needling for Muscular Pain Treatment

Physical therapy shouldn’t just be ice packs and heating pads. At Progressive Spine and Sports Medicine in Ramsey, NJ we offer a variety of state of the art physical therapy techniques. That’s why we’re happy to present this information – in hopes that it will help you live pain free.

Today’s post is all about Dry Needling – one of the unique treatments we use at Progressive Spine and Sports Medicine. Dry Needling is being used more and more by physical therapists to help treat muscular pain and dysfunction – but it is still a relatively new technique which many people have never heard of. So we have put together this information to tell you all about it and how it can help you.

What Is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling, also known as trigger point dry needling or intramuscular manual therapy, is one of the many different manual techniques used by physical therapists to help treat muscular pain and dysfunction.

In general, manual therapy techniques include all of the “hands on” treatment approaches a practitioner may utilize to help you, by influencing the soft tissues (such as muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments) and bony structures of the body. In some of these techniques, the therapist uses his or her hands to deliver the treatment. In others, they may use instruments such as massage tools, pressure bars or belts to help create the desired influence on the painful area.

With Dry Needling, a small filament needle is used as an extension of the therapist’s hands to deliver specific treatment to the area of your body which is causing or contributing to your pain.

We call this technique Dry Needling because there is no medication delivered in the treatment; it is strictly the mechanical action of the needle that creates a therapeutic change in the musculoskeletal system. Other treatments involving needles, such as injections or some types of acupuncture, can deliver some type of medication into the body. Dry Needling does not.

Is Dry Needling the Same as Acupuncture?

Although both techniques involve needles, Dry Needling is not the same as Acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine performed by licensed acupuncturists (like our very own Dr. Ferrer) and is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Like many alternative practices, TCM theory and practice look at the body and its functions very differently from modern, evidence-based medicine.

Dry Needling is a medical treatment which relies on a medical diagnosis from a comprehensive orthopedic and neuromuscular examination to be effective.

What Pain Can Dry Needling Treat?

Dry Needling is one of many tools in our clinical tool box here at Progressive Spine and Sports Medicine. As such, its use and effectiveness are dependent upon a proper and thorough exam to determine if it is the right treatment for you. Dry Needling is most often used to treat pain coming from the soft tissues of the body – something we call myofascial pain.

Myofascial pain is a very common presentation of pain and dysfunction in the musculoskeletal system, often stemming from imbalance, overuse, disuse, atrophy or spasm of muscle and other soft tissues of the body. It is responsible for many visits to doctors, and unfortunately it is often misdiagnosed by physical therapists and other providers across the country. This is because tight bands of muscle within the affected areas can develop something called myofascial trigger points, which may confuse the diagnosis.

Myofascial trigger points are described as hyper-irritable spots within taut bands of the myofascial system and often result in palpable bands and nodules within the muscle fibers. Not only do these spots disrupt the way a muscle normally contracts and stretches, but they can also create pain in the immediate area where they are located or even refer pain to other parts of the body. This pain referral pattern is what makes trigger points and myofascial pain difficult to diagnose. For example, many people complain about having “sciatica” down their leg. The pain you are feeling may look something like this:

Many people think their pain is coming from a “pinched” sciatic nerve in their back, which is causing pain to go down their leg. However, pain present down the back of your leg can also be caused by a trigger point or muscular dysfunction in one of your hip muscles, which then refers pain down the leg as pictured above. Only a thorough soft-tissue examination can we reveal if a trigger point is causing or contributing to your pain.

How Does Dry Needling Work?

Once a trigger point has been found, the next step in treatment is to get rid of it! That is where Dry Needling is most effective. By placing a needle directly into the problematic trigger point or surrounding area, we can help to “deactivate” the trigger point and help those fibers return to their normal resting length. This therapeutic physiological reaction that takes place from Dry Needling can be described as a “neuromuscular reset” (like turning your phone off and on again when it’s not working right). It is also referred to as the “needle effect” and its therapeutic effects on the body have been documented for decades in Western Medicine. One of the first articles written about this was published in 1940 by Dr. Karl Lewit, MD, Dsc of the Czech Republic (at the time, Czechoslovakia). In his paper, titled “The Needle Effect”, Dr. Lewit observed that a needle could be used as an extension of treatment in orthopedic dysfunctions.

Once the trigger point has been deactivated, other treatment techniques such as stretching and strengthening exercises, are much more effective. At Progressive Spine and Sports Medicine, we have also observed that the combination of Dry Needling and massage works very well at working out these troublesome trigger points.

Does Dry Needling Hurt?

That is one of the most common question we get asked about this procedure. Most people feel a “dull ache” during the treatment, which is a normal reaction of muscle fibers. But many people don’t feel anything at all! Some people experience a “cramping” feeling when they first have the procedure done – or a quick “pinch” when the needle is first administered. Otherwise, most people report very few adverse reactions from it, but notice a positive change in their symptoms quickly after.

What Can I Expect After Treatment?

After treatment, your muscles may feel sore – like you’ve worked them out, similar to any other exercise. But what we are most interested in is the resulting change in either your pain, range of motion, or strength following Dry Needling.

At Progressive Spine and Sports Medicine, we use a test-treat-test approach to all our treatments. That means that every time you come in, we test you to see where you are in relation to your goals, then we deliver a specific treatment based on our examination, and then we re-test to see if that treatment was effective in creating a positive change in your symptoms. This helps us customize our pain treatment for maximum effectiveness.

What we tend to notice in our clinic is that, after Dry Needling treatment, there is often an immediate decrease in pain in the muscle we have treated and less pain when moving around. Obviously, every person responds to treatment differently, but the majority of people who receive Dry Needling treatment at our clinic report they have less pain after the procedure then when they walked in.


In conclusion, Dry Needling is one of the many different techniques we offer at Progressive Spine and Sports Medicine. When it comes to influencing muscle tone and treating painful muscles and trigger points, there are few techniques that can create such an immediate change in your muscular health. Combined with a thorough examination and a holistic treatment approach, Dry Needling can certainly help you reach your therapy goals. Call us at 201-962-9199 to learn more, or to schedule your consultation.

At Progressive Spine and Sports Medicine, we specialize in nonsurgical pain management, and dry needling is just one of the many techniques we utilize in our Ramsey, NJ physical therapy center. For more information, please see our full list of our nonsurgical services, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today.

We look forward to being your #1 solution for nonsurgical pain treatment.

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