What is Dry Needling — and Should You Try It?

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
Share it:
What is Dry Needling — and Should You Try It?

At your next physical therapy session, your therapist might suggest dry needling to alleviate muscle pain. The practice is similar to acupuncture: Practitioners insert small needles into the muscle to help release myofascial trigger points.

“During a standard treatment … the patient may feel a twitching response, then the tight muscle may be relaxed immediately,” explains Arthur Yin Fan, PhD, LAc, founder of the McLean Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Research shows dry needling — also known as intramuscular manual stimulation — has a host of health benefits from alleviating low-back pain to improving spinal mobility from fibromyalgia. A study, published in the International Journal of Sports Therapy, found patients with rotator cuff injuries who received eight weeks of dry needling treatments combined with strength training experienced less pain and better range of motion.


Although dry needling can be beneficial, the treatment should be reserved for those who are young, healthy and dealing with minor injuries to the muscles or tendons.

“Dry needling is a very quick and simple treatment to help relax muscles and increase circulation to the area,” says Cristin Gregory, diplomate in Chinese herbology, acupuncturist and founder of Wellbeing Natural Health. “From a Chinese [medicine] perspective it’s a very aggressive treatment that’s not appropriate for everyone.”

Those who are not good candidates for dry needling include older adults or those with weakened immune systems due to stress, trauma or disease, according to Gregory.

Although dry needling is based on the same premise as acupuncture, the two take different approaches — and there is some disagreement about whether the treatments are equally effective.


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that uses thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body with the goal of manipulating the flow of energy or qi. It’s used to address a range of conditions from pain and depression to digestive distress. In contrast, dry needling focuses only on pain and injuries of the muscles and fascia. The training for acupuncturists and dry needling practitioners also differs.

As Fan notes, acupuncturists train for up to 3,500 hours and must be licensed; dry needling practitioners, who are often physical therapists and osteopaths, take much shorter courses, some lasting as few as 20 hours, to learn their technique. Dry needling is one of the tools acupuncturists may use in their practice.

The disparities in training led the American Medical Association to adopt a policy that physical therapists and other non-medical doctors practicing dry needling should meet the same standards for training, certification and continuing education that exists for acupuncture. Fan supports the 2016 recommendation, noting, “Dry needling is a form of acupuncture, and for the safety of public, it is strongly suggested that dry needlers should get a formal education in acupuncture.”

For the best results, Gregory advocates a more holistic approach to treatment, explaining, “Chinese medicine is a comprehensive medical system … and it’s easy to take certain treatment techniques out of Chinese medicine (like dry needling) and use them on their own, but their true value lies in being used within the complex system of Chinese medicine … so that the patient can receive the most benefit from them.”

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


5 responses to “What is Dry Needling — and Should You Try It?”

  1. Avatar Trish Seren says:

    Honestly I had it done for calf tightness and it was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. It was awful and it did absolutely nothing to help the problem. I had better results from old fashioned massage.

  2. Avatar Sandra Smith says:

    I seriously doubt that this is a valid treatment. It would have been helpful if the reporter had cited the research she referred to in the article. I have many questions about the study and its validity. How many patients were involved in the study and what was the criteria for inclusion in the study? Small numbers make a study less reliable. What number of patients actually completed treatment? Was there a control group receiving “sham” treatment? What were the expectations of the study group? What were the controls? Did the researchers have special commercial interests that may have biased their findings? Were these reported? And have these findings been duplicated by any other studies? Unfortunately studies involving alternative and complementary medicine have oftentimes been poorly designed and controlled with a dearth of duplicated findings. This article was poorly written from a scientific standpoint. You folks can do better than this and your subscribers deserve better.

  3. Avatar pertrosfoliea says:

    I normally find the articles of MyFitnessPal to be trustworthy. Seeing this in my feed really disheartened me.

  4. Avatar Mike Mommsen says:

    Maybe you should also cite that most therapist you see now have doctorate level education of treating patients with musculoskeletal dysfunction and when utilized correctly don’t need 3000+ hours of training of non-western medicine to utilize dry needling. No it is not for everyone, but when utilized in conjunction with a proper treatment plan it can be very effective.

  5. Avatar Monolith says:

    Dry Needling verdict is still out… had it done with a neck injury, and although it wasn’t painful, it didn’t seem to offer much in the way of benefits.

    Much rather a Theragun or some good old fashion stretching exercises. But, to each their own, if it works, or has a placebo affect and brings relief, then go for it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Never Miss a Post!

Turn on MyFitnessPal desktop notifications and stay up to date on the latest health and fitness advice.


Click the 'Allow' Button Above


You're all set.