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Reduce Inflammation with Dry Needling

Dry Needling therapy is increasing in popularity as more individuals are experiencing the benefit of this ground-breaking modality for pain relief and reducing inflammation. One of the main goals of dry needling is to restore movement. As a physical therapist, my main job is to restore movement and function, and I use several manual therapy tools to accomplish this.

Dry needling is NOT the same as acupuncture. The same tool is used (a fine, filament needle) but that is the only similarity. Acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, meridians and energy systems in the body. Dissecting a human cadaver is part of physical therapy training along with extensive anatomy, physiology, musculoskeletal dysfunction, the nervous system, movement, orthopedic assessment, osteopathic treatment and manual therapy. Dry needling practice laws vary from state to state in the United States and dry needlig is considered within the scope of physical therapy in Ohio. There is scientific evidence supporting the use of dry needling to reduce pain, improve range of motion, decrease muscle spasm and provide an environment for healing. It is one of the tools we implement in our practice, although it is not the only tool we use. Everyone who uses their hands is not a physical therapist, just like everyone who uses a filament needle is not an acupuncturist.

There are physiological and cellular changes that occur when a needle is inserted into deeper structures:

1) There is a local response at the site of the needle. When a needle is inserted into the tissue, CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide) is released, promoting vasodilation and the formation of new blood vessels. This is a key component in the REPAIR process after injury and why we recommend a dry needling session AFTER an athletic event, such as a marathon or competition, and/or immediately after an injury.

2) There is a segmental response that stimulates the small myelinated nerves in the body. This triggers the release of enkephalin at the dorsal root ganglion of the spinal cord, blocking the transmission of pain at the spinal level the nerve originates from. Often a twitch response, or involuntary, reflexive contraction will occur that helps to reset the nervous system, much like restarting or rebooting a computer. This is why dry needling is so effective for reducing pain and MUSCLE TENSION. It erases muscle memory, which helps to restore normal motor control and ultimately, function. This is why we recommend dry needling BEFORE an athletic event, to improve performance and prevent injury that can occur from tight and dysfunctional muscles.

3) There is a systemic effect in which beta-endorphin is released in the brain (an opiate neuropeptide), providing an overall analgesic effect in the body. This is the same opiate that is released during spinal manipulation, and is in the same family as the pain killer, morphine. This explains why dry needling is effective at PAIN MANAGEMENT without as many side effects as medication. In addition, individuals who have heart disease are now being told to avoid Ibuprofen, and dry needling is an effective alternative to reduce inflammation and pain.

Myofascial trigger points are defined as hyperirritable, involuntary muscle contractions that are capable of radiating pain at a remote location, causing dysfunction. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) studied markers of inflammation related to inflammation and pain including bradykinin, CGRP, substance P, tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-1, serotonin and norepinephrine within a myofascial trigger point. Levels of these substances were elevated prior to a dry needling session and restored to more normal levels afterwards. (DeKlerk, 2013) This is a key component to reducing inflammation in the entire body and why a therapeutic "buzz" is often felt after being dry needled, along with a reduction of inflammation in the nervous system.

I have been using dry needling in my practice since 2014 and I have been able to reduce tension in muscles more effectively than any other modality I have used as a seasoned therapist. I am a student of Integrative Dry Needling (IDN), which addresses imbalances on both sides of the body, not just symptomatic trigger points. What motivated me to learn dry needling was my own chronic pain and frequent headaches and migraines. Despite radical changes in my diet, muscle pain continued to rob me of quality time with my family and friends, and I still experienced cyclical migraines that lasted 2 to 3 days just before my menstrual cycle. My migraines now occur very infrequently and my cyclical headaches have been mostly abated if I receive a dry needling treatment BEFORE my cycle begins and if I am needled into deeper tissues to produce a twitch. Timing is very important to reduce inflammation before it occurs. For more information or to find a dry needling provider in your area, visit

Here are some testimonials of how dry needling has helped individuals in our clinic:

"My massage therapist can work into deeper tissues and I can tolerate it more."

"My core seems to know what to do and I have less resistance from my hips."

"I feel relaxed and calmer, with a sense of well-being."

"I feel 25 years younger and my knees don't hurt when I climb stairs."

"I didn't feel stiff when I traveled and was able to enjoy my vacation more."

"I came in with a migraine and now it's gone!"

"My hip has never been this flexible."

"I have tried everything to lengthen my hamstrings and this works!"

"My urinary frequency and urgency is gone."

"I can run longer before I experience pain."

"I got my life back."

"My golf swing is stronger and easier."

"This was more effective at relieving my joint and muscle pain than Ibuprofen."

"I returned to my sport without fear of injury."

"i can do my splits in gymnastics."

"I can sleep through the night."

"It's like I have new legs."

The results can be felt as quickly as the first needling session and it only takes 15 minutes! Four sessions spread a week apart is what we recommend and then as needed after that. If you suffer with back pain, hip pain, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, tendinitis, piriformis syndrome, TMJ dysfunction, neck pain, migraines, plantar fascitis or any other musculoskeleletal ailment, dry needling can help! Dry needling is cost-effective and produces results! To read part 2 of our blog with the latest evidence in dry needling, click here. To schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapist specialists, call (330)528-0034.


DeKlerk, A. (2012). A comparison between ultrasound therapy and dry needling in the treatment of active trapezius myofascial trigger points. 1-132.

written by Janine Laughlin, PT - Dec 2015

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