By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, OCS

It’s very likely that, if you’ve been to physical therapy recently (or know anybody who has), you have heard of dry needling. For those of you who don’t know, dry needling is defined as a “skilled intervention using a thin filiform needle to penetrate the skin that stimulates trigger points, muscles, and connective tissue for the management of musculoskeletal disorders.”(1) Though not necessary for treatment of every patient that walks through our door, dry needling is a tool that we may decide on using based on our professional judgement of your condition and how helpful we think it will be in getting you to feel better, faster. There are many factors that help us make these decisions, but more and more research is being published regarding dry needling in order to find out just how effective it can be in addition to other physical therapy treatments.

Jeff performing dry needling on an upper trapezius muscle

One recent study was published in February 2018 by many renowned physical therapy researchers.(2) These researchers decided to hone in on a problem that is near and dear to many people- subacromial pain syndrome, more commonly known as “shoulder impingement”. As this is a very common problem for people, studies are often undertaken to figure out how best to treat this problem as well as how to cut healthcare costs by offering the most efficient and effective treatments. Specifically, this study looked at patients that had at least three months of shoulder pain that was at least a 4/10 level of pain.(2) The patients either received treatment of exercise combined with dry needling or exercise alone, with the exercises targeting the key rotator cuff and shoulder blade muscles that help to improved shoulder function.(2) The treatments were once per week for a five-week period and the dry needling was only performed in the first two sessions for the group receiving that treatment.(2) What the researchers found was that the addition of two sessions of dry needling to a quality, supervised exercise program for the shoulder led to the patients utilizing significantly fewer health care resources than those who had exercise alone: they had less visits to additional providers and less use of additional treatments such as more PT.(2) On top of that, the dry needling plus exercise group had significantly less cost related to missing work as well as had better quality of life ratings than the exercise alone group.(2) All in all, the addition of dry needling to the physical-therapist directed exercise program was a real “win” for getting the patients better faster and spending less overall money in the process.

Currently, we have four physical therapists who are certified in dry needling. If you are a current or upcoming patient, make sure to ask your PT if dry needling might be a worthy addition to your treatment plan!

1. APTA. Description of Dry Needling in Clinical Practice: An Education Resource Paper. Alexandria, VA: APTA Public Policy, Practice, and Professional Affairs Unit; 2013.

2. Arias-Buria JL, Martin-Saborido C, Cleland J, Koppenhaver SL, Plaza-Manzano G, Fernandez-de-las-Penas C. Cost-effectiveness Evaluation of the Inclusion of Dry Needling into an Exercise Program for Subacromial Pain Syndrome: en e from a Randomized Clinical Trial. Pain Medicine. 2018;1-12. Doi:10.1093/pm/pny021