Weighing the pros and cons of dry needling: Is this popular therapy right for you?

Joint Health

by Christopher Trinh, DO

Jun 26, 2024

Dry needling, a procedure used to relieve muscle aches and pains, has been growing in popularity in recent years. If you’re experiencing muscle pain and curious about this therapy, here’s what you need to know about the pros and cons of dry needling.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a therapeutic technique used in orthopedics to relieve muscle pain and improve joint range of motion. During dry needling, an off-branch of the East Asian technique known as acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into trigger points in your muscles. Dry needling is often used in integrative medicine.

Dry needling works by pushing through the skin to engage the underlying muscle where there are trigger points (sore spots). These trigger points are commonly referred to as "muscle knots.” This sets off a cascade effect that increases blood flow to the region, gets rid of toxins, stimulates nerves and increases endorphins.

What are the pros and cons of dry needling?

Dry needling can be an effective tool to help treat pain caused by tight muscles or sensitive nerves. But like any treatment or therapy, it’s important to understand the potential benefits and risks, so you can decide whether dry needling is the right step for you.

Pros of dry needling

Dry needling is a helpful technique that offers many potential benefits for relieving pain from musculoskeletal pain or injury. Let’s discuss some of the key reasons people enjoy dry needling.

Minimally invasive

The needles used in dry needling are very thin—thinner than a sewing needle—and it’s typically not a painful procedure. During dry needling therapy, you may feel mild discomfort like a “prick” sensation or achiness following the procedure.

Natural option for pain relief for a wide range of conditions

Dry needling can be a helpful treatment option for people looking for natural ways to relieve pain without medication or surgery. It can be effective for a wide range of symptoms, but it’s most commonly used for the following conditions:

Better mobility and range of motion

When your muscles are stiff, you may experience limited mobility. Dry needling can improve your range of motion and increase mobility, helping your muscles move easier. By stimulating your muscles at the trigger points, dry needling relaxes and lengthens stiff muscles.

Increases blood flow

If your muscles are tight, blood can’t flow freely, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the area to promote healing. Dry needling relaxes the muscles, which helps open your blood vessels so blood can flow more easily.

Quick recovery time

Fortunately, dry needling has a very short recovery time. Whereas other more invasive treatment options like surgery would require a lengthy recovery period, you can typically resume normal activities immediately after dry needling.

Cons of dry needling

While dry needling can help relieve pain for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, it does come with some potential risks and drawbacks to be aware of.

Potential side effects of dry needling

Although considered a safe procedure with very low risk of complications, dry needling can cause side effects at the insertion site, including:

  • Muscle soreness
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding

There is also a risk of allergic reaction or infection. This is why it’s important to make sure you’re working with a trained professional who uses proper technique and sterile equipment.

Discomfort during treatment

You may experience mild discomfort during your dry needling session when the needles are inserted. This is most commonly felt as a short “prick” sensation or feeling of pressure. However, any discomfort is usually mild and temporary.

Out-of-pocket costs

Dry needling may not be covered by your insurance plan, so you may be required to pay out of pocket. Talk to your insurance provider if you have any questions about your coverage.

Should you consider dry needling?

Dry needling can be an effective way to relieve muscle pain, especially if you’re looking for natural alternatives to medicine or surgery. But it does come with some risks and side effects to keep in mind.

Dry needling is not recommended for people who are pregnant or who have a bleeding disorder, cancer or immunocompromising conditions. Be sure and talk to your doctor about what whether dry needling is a good option for you, so you can work together to build an effective treatment plan.

You don’t have to live with aches and pains. Find a doctor near you today and discover how to move better.

About the Author

Christopher Trinh, DO, is a sports medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie who is dedicated to serving active adults and athletes at every level throughout Ellis County and surrounding areas. Connect with Dr. Trinh today.

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