Needling, also called dry needling, is a new form of natural medicine, with public access for only the past few years, even though it officially began in the ’80s. It uses much longer needles, as shown above in the picture with the two smaller packages of needles being standard acupuncture needles. Acupuncture needles go about a quarter of an inch into the skin, stimulating meridians that connect body functions. Needling needles go deeper into the muscle, often to the bone. The second needle from the left, shown above, is used in dry needling on body builders or football players, where the muscle tissue is larger. 


Physical Therapy Reviews says, “Dry needles may also be inserted in the vicinity of peripheral nerves and/or neurovascular bundles in order to manage a variety of neuromusculoskeletal pain syndromes.”

Wet needling is different in that it uses hollow-bore needles to administer corticosteroids, anesthetics, toxins, pain killers and the like. Hollow-bore needles are  hollow like a small straw and used for things like IV bags. 

Dry needling needles go into the muscle tissue where there is pain, sometimes they are poked around, up and down in different directions, realigning confused muscle fibers. Dry needling uses insertion, fast in-and-out techniques, ‘pistoning’ or ‘sparrow pecking’. The needles are manually stimulated, twisted, again aligning the muscle fibers. Inflammation is desired to set the muscle fibers. If the muscle tissue isn’t set, the needle will not come out easily, designating more time is needed. Overall, a Dry Needling treatment takes roughly 10 to 30 minutes and uses any different number of needles, depending on the situation. 

The pain from needling has a wide range and not what you would expect. Often it will be nothing, no mark of feeling, if the muscle tissues are aligned and all is well in the area. It could feel like a bee sting if the situation is acute. Most times it feels like someone is flicking you, as if you were flicking a fly off the table. If needling is performed in a tendon, in cases such as tendinitis, it feels like a bee sting that doesn’t cease. The pain goes away when the needle is removed. 

Needling and acupuncture are two completely different modes of natural medicine, even though they are often called the same. They are similar in that they both use needles, however, they are not related and do two totally different things. Acupuncture is performed by an acupuncturist, needling is done by a physical therapist or sometimes a chiropractor who chooses to continue their education for further certification. Physical therapists have full knowledge of muscle structures, tendon location, and most importantly artery and vein locations, as well as other things. Performing needling without this knowledge could be very dangerous. Nurses are allowed to attend needling training but are not authorized to perform needling, they can only achieve knowledge. At this time, it is not legal in every state as California, Utah, New York, Idaho, Hawaii and Florida do not allow skin puncture.

Needling addresses situations which involve muscles and connective tissues such as muscular pain, bone pain, sciatic pain, plantar fasciitis, pulled muscles, pulled tendons, ligament damage, pain that doesn’t go away after delivering a baby, general soreness, tendinitis, TMJ, lockjaw, migraines, tension headaches, shooting pain, pain that extends down the arm, separated abdominal muscles, prolapsed bladder, trigger point (coagulation of lactic acid balls), as well as others. 

Most situations are resolved in 3 treatments of needling, some take 6 treatments. Most situations can see resolution in two treatments, 5% of treatments resolve the pain in one treatment. If the pain is not resolved in 6 treatments, the pain is known to stay or needling is not the correct resolution. 

Advanced training in needling includes electrode stimulation on inserted needles and needling the face, neck and hand.

The Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy says, “From a pain science perspective, trigger points are constant sources of peripheral nociceptive input leading to peripheral and central sensitization. Dry needling cannot only reverse some aspects of central sensitization, it reduces local and referred pain, improves range of motion and muscle activation pattern, and alters the chemical environment of trigger points.”

The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy says when discussing dry needing, “It has recently been appreciated that in addition to activity‐dependent synaptic plasticity, changes to microglia, astrocytes, gap junctions, membrane excitability, and gene transcription all can contribute to the continuation of central sensitization. This “ramped up” nervous system perpetuates chronic muscular hypertonicity, and the development of myofascial trigger points.”

Disability and Rehabilitation reported a single-blind randomized controlled trial using dry needling with 64 fibromyalgia patients. They found, “This therapeutic approach improves anxiety, depression, fatigue symptoms, quality of life, and sleep after treatment. Dry needling and myofascial release therapies decrease intensity of pain, and the impact of fibromyalgia symptoms in this population.”

JMIR Research Protocols has reported Franklin Pierce University is currently performing a randomized double blind study on those with chronic neck pain using dry needling. 

The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine reported a trial studying decreased pain and increased range of motion and found, “Dry needling was less effective on decreasing pain comparing to the placebo group. Other treatments were more effective than dry needling on reducing pain after 3-4 weeks. However, on increasing range of motion, dry needling was more effective comparing to that of placebo group, but less than other treatments.”

To find a dry needling practitioner near you, click here. 

*Nourishing Plot is written by Becky Plotner, ND, traditional naturopath, CGP, D.PSc. who sees clients in Rossville, Georgia. She works as a Certified GAPS Practitioner who sees clients in her office, Skype and phone. She has been published in Wise Traditions, spoken at two Weston A. Price Conferences, Certified GAPS Practitioner Trainings, has been on many radio shows, television shows and writes for Nourishing Plot. Since her son was delivered from the effects of autism (Asperger’s syndrome), ADHD, bipolar disorder/manic depression, hypoglycemia and dyslexia, through food, she continued her education specializing in Leaky Gut and parasitology through Duke University, finishing with distinction. She is a Chapter Leader for The Weston A. Price Foundation. becky.nourishingplot@hotmail.com

“GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. The right of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Patent and Designs Act 1988.

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