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Published on January 31, 2019

dry needling

Odd Name, But It Works: Dry Needling Relieves Pain

For those who first hear the term dry needling, there’s a certain hesitation, because it does sound strange – but the decades-old practice has a strong suit: it works.

More Avera physical therapists are using functional dry needling as a technique that can treat pain in the neck, back or extremities. Therapists use it to treat active or latent trigger points, hyper-irritable spots, taut bands of skeletal muscle and fascia, or painful spots that produce characteristic pain, tenderness or motor dysfunction.

“It’s an evidence-based therapy shown to decrease spontaneous electrical activity in a dysfunctional muscle while it decreases substances in the muscle that cause inflammation. Dry needling also helps increase vascularity,” said physical therapist Samantha Schnabel, PT, DPT, CSMT, Avera Therapy Yankton. “It can restore the length-tension relationship in muscles, and in some ways serves to ‘reset’ them to their normal function.”

Training for New Expertise

More Avera therapists are becoming trained in dry needling, making this service available to more patients. Its name comes from the needles used, which are similar to acupuncture needles. “Dry” means they are not medicated in any way, nor do they provide an injection.

“Physical therapists who use dry needling evaluate the patient’s neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems to determine the best treatment points,” said Yankton-based Avera physical therapist Lisa Huber, PT. “They look at the location and behavior of the injury as well as the pain pattern to identify what provokes pain.”

The goal of the dry needling is to restore function while decreasing pain, using threadlike needles to penetrate the skin and stimulate underlying trigger points.

“More and more, health care providers continue to find methods to treat pain that can omit pills and surgery,” said physical therapist Jason Tjeerdsma, DPT, at Avera Therapy in Sioux Falls, SD. “Dry needling is a good example: it’s a way for patients to take control of their health with a more natural approach toward pain relief.”

Part of an Overall Plan

In cases when dry needling is used by physical therapists, it is typically one technique that's part of a larger treatment plan.

Preliminary research supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates — the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.

As part of their training, physical therapists are well-educated in anatomy and therapeutic treatment of the body. Physical therapists who perform dry needling supplement that knowledge by obtaining specific postgraduate education and training.

Physical therapists use dry needling to release or inactivate trigger points to relieve pain and improve range of motion. Physical therapists may use dry needling as part of an overall treatment plan, especially those that focus on musculoskeletal problems such as:

  • Acute or chronic injuries
  • Headaches
  • Neck/back pain
  • Tendinitis
  • Muscle spasms

“We have found it effective in treating pain in the shoulders, hips and knees. It also has good applications for sports rehab, including muscle strains, conditions such as tennis or golfer’s elbow, over-use injuries and also patellar-femoral pain syndrome and plantar fasciitis,” said Tjeerdsma. “It’s not only helpful for pain relief, but it can also increase blood flow, range of motion and strength. When muscle functionality gets better, patients have a return of proper biomechanics.”

Dry needling is an elective procedure, so call your health insurance company to verify what is covered. Dry needling is used in conjunction with other forms of physical therapy interventions that are typically covered by insurance. Avera physical therapists at a number of locations offer dry needling. Visit to find a therapist location near you.

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