What Is Dry Needling?

Definition: Intramuscular Manual Therapy (IMT), which is generally referred to as dry needling, is defined as a technique to treat myofascial pain using a dry needle (without medication) that is inserted into a trigger point with the goal of releasing the trigger points and relieving pain. A trigger point is a taut band of skeletal muscle, which can be tender and refer pain to distant parts of the body.*

*Position Statement NC Board of Physical Therapy Examiners

Distinction between Acupuncture and IMT (Dry Needling):

Physical therapists use dry needling to release / activate the trigger points and relieve pain, while acupuncture includes diagnostic techniques for the restoration of health and prevention of disease. Intramuscular dry needling is used in conjunction with other physical therapy intervention such as stretching, strengthening, massage, and home exercise programs.

 Dry Needling Treatment:

  1. The needles are sterile. Needles are for one time use.
  2. There is no minimum time frame between IMT sessions. There is no maximum or minimum number of visits for effectiveness of treatment. IMT intervention is based on assessment each visit.
  3. Not all patients are candidates for IMT. There are relative and absolute contraindications.
  4. Patients may experience soreness (like a hard workout) or bruising
  5. Patients may use ice to decrease the muscle soreness
  6. Patients may want to slightly increase their water consumption to assist in muscle recovery

Source: Intramuscular Manual Therapy (Dry Needling) June 14, 2012 (Educational Programs approved by NCBPTE added Sept 13,

2012, Dec 6, 2012, July 30, 2013, August 28, 2013, and Oct 22,2013)

More Information

Needles range in size from 30-70mm, 0.25mm in diameter. There are a limited number of "sticks" into each muscle. The goal is to illicit a twitch response in the involved muscle and subsequently reduce pain and spasming. When pain is reduced, the muscle can then relax again.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask Bethany at any time. She understands that there may be some trepidation involving this procedure, and she is more than happy to discuss with procedure with you at length to ensure that you feel comfortable and prepared.

Equipment Involved

  • Seirin J Type Acupuncture Needles
  • Gloves
  • Alcohol Swabs
  • Sharps Container
  • Therapy Table


You may not be a candidate for dry needling if you have any of the following: local infection, lymphdema, fear of needles, bleeding disorders, DM, vascular disease, a compromised immune system, pacemaker, acute joint replacement, breast implants, or are in your first trimester of pregnancy.

Dry Needling is very safe, but with any treatment, there are risks.

Bruising is a common occurrence and should not be a concern unless you are taking a blood thinner. As the needles are very small, significant tissue trauma from dry needling is extremely unlikely. The most serious risk associated with dry needling is accidental puncture of a lung (pneumothorax). This is a rare complication and in skilled hands should not be a concern.

The most common effects are bruising, fatigue, slight bleeding, and low levels of pain. To quantify this further, a study was performed in 2009 examining the side effects for 229,230 patients. Of those patients, 90.6% had no negative effect at all.


Source of Study Data:      Witt CM ,  Pach   D ,  Brinkhaus   B ,  Wruck   K ,  Tag B ,  Mank   S ,  Willich   SN .    Forsch     Komplementmed  .  2009 Apr;16(2):91-7. doi: 10.1159/000209315. Epub 2009 Apr 9.
Source of Study Data:
Witt CM, Pach D, Brinkhaus B, Wruck K, Tag B, Mank S, Willich SN. Forsch Komplementmed. 2009 Apr;16(2):91-7. doi: 10.1159/000209315. Epub 2009 Apr 9.