Usually at the end of an evaluation or after a patient experiences trigger point dry needling for the first time and gets immediate relief I get the same question, “How can a needle with no medication make me feel better so quickly?”

Before I answer that question, it is important to understand the role dry needling plays in rehabilitation.  The primary goal of dry needling is to reduce pain in sensitive tissues, restore motion and function and possibly induce a localized healing response in the tissue.  This modality is in no way the only means by which a therapist or healthcare professional can achieve those goals.  However, in my experience, it has proven to be faster than some of the other more traditional techniques used in physical therapy.  With that in mind, let’s explore the four reasons why dry needling is so effective at reducing muscle pain.

  • Mechanical effects – It is thought that a well-placed needle going in and out of a muscle may create a localized stretch to the contracted tissue. Stretching, as we know, can relax muscles which is why this theory makes sense.
  • Chemical effects – Studies have looked at chemical levels inside trigger points before and after needle insertion. The research showed that once the needle created a twitch response, chemical levels dropped back to normal levels.  Micro-trauma from the needle itself may also allow the introduction of a chemical called PDGF (platelet derived growth factor) which can jump start the healing process.
  • Neurophysiological effects – Research has implied that dry needling can tap directly into the central nervous system causing the brain to release opioids. This can lead to mediated pain suppression.  Another possible theory postulates that dry needling can essentially cause the spinal cord to block incoming pain messages from the painful tissue.  In other words, if a pain signal can’t reach the brain, the brain doesn’t know that a tissue hurts.
  • Electrophysiological effects – Another theory being floated around is that placing a metal object (the needle) inside a bioelectrical field (your body) can disrupt the constant signals to and from the brain, effectively resetting the tissue back to normal.

As you can see there are a number of reasons why trigger point dry needling can be so helpful at deactivating trigger points.  If you have any questions about information presented in this article, please feel free to check out the link below and reach out to us at 479-402-9400.


Dr. Christian Robertozzi

Author Dr. Christian Robertozzi

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