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What is Dry Needling

Male Patient Undergoing Dry NeedlingDry needling is the insertion of monofilament needles into muscles, ligaments, subcutaneous tissue, scar tissue, or in the vicinity of peripheral nerves and/or neurovascular bundles to manage a variety of neuromusculoskeletal conditions. 

Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture?

Although the needles and tools used are similar, the approach and training are different. Acupuncture is based on Eastern medicine and uses traditional acupuncture theories. Dry needling is rooted in Western medicine, is part of a multi-modal plan of care, and is typically not a stand-alone treatment. Dry needling typically penetrates the skin deeper than acupuncture. The two techniques differ in diagnosis, palpation, location, and needle manipulation. 

Does Dry Needling Hurt?

Each patients’ experience is different with dry needling. Some people may feel a slight prick with the insertion of the needle but most don’t feel anything at all. You may feel a twitch of the muscle followed by an ache, cramp, or slight discomfort but this sensation is temporary as the needle moves through the muscle. 

How Big Are The Needles?

We use the same needles used for acupuncture which typically range from 0.12-0.50mm in diameter and  0.15-0.75mm in length. The smaller needles are used for smaller areas of the body such as the face, hands, and scalp while the larger needles are used for larger muscles and tissue such as the gluteal region or low back. 

What Common Conditions Can Dry Needling Help Treat?

  • Myofascial pain

  • Temporomandibular disorder (TMD)

  • Headaches/Migraines

  • Tendonitis

  • Frozen shoulder

  • Tennis or Golfer’s elbow 

  • Carpal tunnel

  • Muscle strains

  • Scar tissue

  • Pelvic pain

  • Sciatic pain

  • Plantar fasciitis 

  • Achilles tendonitis

How Does Dry Needling Work?

  • Decreases localized muscle contraction or what is familiarly known as a trigger point

    • A myofascial trigger point is an area within the muscle that accumulates excessive acetylcholine and subsequently releases calcium that initiates a continuous cycle of muscle contraction or hypertonicity. A trigger point can create localized pain, decrease motion, and disrupt daily function. Targeting trigger points with dry needling can create a localized twitch response. 

  • Creates an endogenous opioid response to improve pain management

    • The body naturally releases opioids throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems where the receptors are located to decrease pain.

  • Induces inflammatory response

    • The needle may initiate the first stage of the healing response which starts with inflammation. This restarts the healing process ultimately improving blood flow and oxygenation to the site.


Although minimal, there are some risks to be aware of. An accidental puncture of lung, or pneumothorax, is possible when dry needling near the lung field. Other minimal risks include ecchymosis (bruise), infection, and nerve damage.The training in which our clinicians take part is sufficient to reduce the risk of injury or complications following dry needling. All of our clinicians are certified to perform dry needling as required by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Contact Atlas Physical Therapy at Central Park, Congress Park or Downtown Denver to try dry needling for yourself!