Dry Needling: What Is It? Best Method & What to Expect

Dry needling is a modern technique of inserting a thin, monofilament needle in trigger points to treat chronic pain and “reset” muscle dysfunction.

A trigger point is a taut band of skeletal muscle located within a larger muscle group. Treating trigger points can unlock all sorts of health benefits.

If you are an athlete in Colorado, you’ve probably heard about dry needling. It is a popular and effective treatment utilized by chiropractors and physical therapists alike.

It has gained an especially strong following in the athletic community, due to its surprising effectiveness.

Because it is such a new form of treatment, there are different beliefs as to why it works. A patient’s experience may vary depending on the practitioner and their methodology.

Even mainstream organizations like the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) admit that dry needling therapies have merit over placebo.

If you’re in the Denver area and interested in dry needling, visit Action Spine & Sports Medicine.

Read below to learn 12 evidence-based benefits, the best method for dry needling, who should not have dry needling performed on them, and a scientific viewpoint of why dry needling really works.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is an evidence-based treatment used by qualified professionals to treat muscle pain and other conditions. Combining traditional Chinese medicine with modern healthcare, filiform needles are gently inserted into trigger points for pain management.

Your muscle fibers may involuntarily exhibit a “local twitch response”. This is completely normal and often painless.

The needles are “dry” because there’s no anesthetic or medicine in them; these needles are empty, dry.

Is dry needling covered by insurance? Most insurance plans do not cover dry needling. Hopefully, insurance companies will soon start to read the mountains of science piling up in support of dry needling though.

Dry needling is also known as:

  • Functional dry needling
  • Trigger point dry needling
  • Intramuscular stimulation

What is the difference between acupuncture and dry needling?

  • What is acupuncture? Acupuncture is the 3,000-year-old ancient Chinese practice involving the strategic insertion of thin needles into the skin by a qualified acupuncturist. The goal of acupuncture is to realign your ‘qi’. 
  • What is dry needling? Dry needling is a procedure in which a qualified healthcare professional applies sterile needles (containing no liquid) to specific areas of the body. Modern scientific journals show that certain health benefits may follow. The goal is to facilitate a central (brain) based response to change the way the brain and muscle communicate. 

Both acupuncture and dry needling use thin, monofilament needles to treat muscle impairments and offer pain relief.

Types of Pain Dry Needling Treats

What is dry needling good for? Dry needling is good for chronic pain and dysfunctional muscle disorders.

Evidence-based health benefits of dry needling include:

  1. Reduces low back pain, neck pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, myofascial pain
  2. Accelerates your body’s natural healing processes
  3. Treats headaches, migraines
  4. Increases blood flow
  5. Increases range of motion
  6. Reduces muscle tension and muscle spasms
  7. Treats fibromyalgia
  8. Treats plantar fasciitis
  9. Treats golfer’s elbow
  10. Treats carpal tunnel syndrome
  11. Helps with tendonitis
  12. Reduces sciatica symptoms

Dry Needling Methods

There are 2 basic methods to dry needling:

  1. The first method uses a single stick, usually with multiple needles, where the needles are left in the body (usually involving electrical stimulation) for a period of time.
  2. The second technique is where a single needle is placed into the trigger point, then ‘pistoned’ back & forth to increase the amount of sharp sensation in that trigger point. 

I tend to piston the majority of cases, and here is why:

Sharp sensation — like a needle stick travels on a very specific pathway from the point of stimulation (where the needle is poked) to the brain.

That pathway is called the spinothalamic pathway.

This is significant because it is one of the primary ways the brain receives, and therefore interprets, noxious stimuli. 

Once the signal is at the thalamus, it is relayed to either different parts of the body, or brain. The role of the thalamus is to process sensory information and delegate the response.

How does dry needling work? Dry needling works by gently inserting thin needles through myofascial trigger points and connective tissues to stimulate the brain. (The word “myofascial” consists of “myo”, which refers to muscle, and “fascia”, which refers to soft tissues that connect muscle.)

Dry Needling Pain: What to Expect

How painful is dry needling? Dry needling can be painful to certain patients, but it doesn’t have to be. It may cause discomfort where the needles are placed. The sensation of your natural twitch response can be uncomfortable to feel time and time again, but it is scientifically shown to exert certain health benefits.

Ultimately, the “hurt” is worth it. If you’re a good candidate for dry needling, the health benefits outweigh the side effects. These needling techniques are based on years of peer-reviewed research.

How long does dry needling last? A dry needling treatment session lasts a few minutes per treatment area. 

At Action Spine & Sports Medicine, dry needling is a procedure that can be done within a treatment time (visits typically last 30 minutes). However, dry needling itself only takes a few minutes per area (shoulder, knee, hip, etc.). 

The muscle soreness from dry needling should only last 12-24 hours. The health benefits of dry needling may last for days; most practitioners schedule 3-4 dry needling sessions for long-lasting health benefits.

Who should not have dry needling?

  • Patients with certain bleeding disorders
  • Pregnant women, especially during their first trimester

Our very own Dr. Cowin is an international trailblazer in sports medicine. Dr. Cowin and his staff can help you determine if you are a good fit for functional dry needling.

Is dry needling right for you?

Trigger point dry needling is a low-risk, low-cost, and research-based method for treating many conditions.

Dry needling actually works. This evidence-based treatment for chronic pain and soreness has now been shown many times over by modern science to reduce musculoskeletal pain by targeting active myofascial trigger points (in your skeletal muscles) with dry needles.

At Action Spine & Sports Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Cowin and his trusty team utilize evidence-based treatment plans to get you back in the real world as quickly and safely as possible. Dr. Cowin fully endorses dry needling for rehab and other purposes.

Click here or call us right away at (720) 541-7098. You can set up your appointment with Action Spine & Sports Medicine, here in the heart of Denver, CO.


  1. Dunning, J., Butts, R., Mourad, F., Young, I., Flannagan, S., & Perreault, T. (2014). Dry needling: a literature review with implications for clinical practice guidelines. Physical therapy reviews, 19(4), 252-265. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117383/
  2. Kubo, K., Yajima, H., Takayama, M., Ikebukuro, T., Mizoguchi, H., & Takakura, N. (2010). Effects of acupuncture and heating on blood volume and oxygen saturation of human Achilles tendon in vivo. European journal of applied physiology, 109(3), 545-550. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20140448/
  3. Kietrys, D. M., Palombaro, K. M., Azzaretto, E., Hubler, R., Schaller, B., Schlussel, J. M., & Tucker, M. (2013). Effectiveness of dry needling for upper-quarter myofascial pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 43(9), 620-634. Full text: https://www.jospt.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2519/jospt.2013.4668
  4. Unverzagt, C., Berglund, K., & Thomas, J. J. (2015). Dry needling for myofascial trigger point pain: a clinical commentary. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(3), 402. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458928/
  5. Giamberardino, M. A., Affaitati, G., Fabrizio, A., & Costantini, R. (2011). Effects of treatment of myofascial trigger points on the pain of fibromyalgia. Current pain and headache reports, 15(5), 393. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21541831/
  6. Cotchett, M. P., Munteanu, S. E., & Landorf, K. B. (2014). Effectiveness of trigger point dry needling for plantar heel pain: a randomized controlled trial. Physical therapy, 94(8), 1083-1094. Full text: https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article/94/8/1083/2735599
  7. Shariat, A., Noormohammadpour, P., Memari, A. H., Ansari, N. N., Cleland, J. A., & Kordi, R. (2018). Acute effects of one session dry needling on a chronic golfer’s elbow disability. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 14(1), 138. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5833959/
  8. Fernández-de-Las Peñas, C., Ortega-Santiago, R., Ana, I., Martínez-Perez, A., Díaz, H. F. S., Martínez-Martín, J., … & Cuadrado-Pérez, M. L. (2015). Manual physical therapy versus surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome: a randomized parallel-group trial. The Journal of Pain, 16(11), 1087-1094. Full text: https://atmis.pl/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/J-Pain-2015-16-11-1087-1094.-Manual-therapy-vs.-surgery-for-CTS.pdf


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