The Pros And Cons Of Dry Needling: An Expert Analysis

Considering Dry Needling therapy as a recovery option? Naturally, you may be curious about the Pros and Cons of Dry Needling. 

The term Dry Needling has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. 

Dry Needling’s rise in popularity is due, in part, to an increase in:

  • recognition from professional athletes
  • accessibility to recreational athletes 
  • success rates for those in chronic pain. 

It’s an interesting term that often comes with a lot of questions.


“What is Dry Needling?”

“Is it the same as acupuncture?” 

“How does Dry Needling work?”

“Does it hurt?”

physical therapy performing dry needling on a patient's thigh

Keep reading to get answers to all of these questions and understand the pros and cons of Dry Needling. 


What is Dry Needling?

The term Dry Needling refers to a therapy technique that uses a needle without an injectate. (like corticosteroids or lidocaine)

The approach to dry needling therapy will depend on the medical professional providing the treatment. The medical providers’ expertise and training will also be a factor.

In Physical Therapy, we use a solid filament needle to affect the musculoskeletal system positively. 

 We often refer to it as a “reset” because it shows to have a positive effect on:

  • the mobility of muscles
  • their ability to fire, contract, and support our system better.

Our treatment focuses on affecting this system because a physical therapist is a specialist in the Neuromusculoskeletal System (the bones, muscles, nerves, and joints).

In Physical Therapy, Dry Needling is a way to “reset” the musculoskeletal system. 

Using a solid filament needle and our advanced knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and neurophysiology to treat the neuromusculoskeletal system to improve mobility, function, and pain. 

The Pros and Cons of Dry Needling

If you’re considering dry Needling, it’s natural you would want to weigh the pros and cons. Here they are:

Pros of Dry Needling

  • Patients usually feel an immediate improvement in the mobility of the muscles treated.
  • It can assist in reducing a patient’s need for pain medication.
  • Facilitates tissue repair after an injury
  • Dry Needling can reduce inflammation related to tendonitis, arthritis, impingement, or stress fractures. 
  • It is more specific and can target deeper muscles than massage or even instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (i.e., Graston technique).
  • The needle used is a solid filament needle. It is smaller than a typical needle like the ones used in a doctor’s office for injections. 
  • It is beneficial in season and during competition, without any need for rest due to the procedure. 

Cons of Dry Needling

  • The patient may experience muscle soreness for about 24 hours after treatment. 
  • Some bruising may occur from treatments. 
  • Some patients find the technique uncomfortable. Yet, most patients find it so helpful they choose this technique over others after seeing its benefits first hand. 
  • there is a very, very low risk of complications (<.01%) 

Does dry needling therapy work?

Yes, it works!

Dry Needling can provide structural, biochemical, and electrical changes in the properties of muscle. That allows the muscle to function more effectively, reducing recovery time and time off due to injury. 

Because of these effects, we can create dramatic, immediate changes in pain, mobility, and function associated with musculoskeletal injuries. But, even more impressive is that because the muscles are performing better, results last longer than with most other techniques that address soft tissue dysfunction. 

Remember, we use this tool as an adjunct to many of our other techniques and exercises in physical therapy. The end goal is to facilitate better movement and to give you the capacity to keep that movement.  

So as you progress in your rehabilitation with us, you will find you are doing less needling and more exercise prescription, strengthening, and mobility work. 

Dry needling results 

Physical Therapist JJ Thomas providing dry needling therapy to patient's back

Patients are consistently surprised by the dramatic results achieved with the use of Dry Needling in their rehabilitation plan of care. 

We use movement as our test to assess your deficits and reassess your response to our treatment. For that reason, it is common for our patients to see and feel results within just the first session.

Here are some fantastic dry needling success stories:

  • A 40-year-old female, 12 weeks post-operative Rotator Cuff repair, couldn’t raise her arm beyond 90 degrees to the side but raised the arm to 130 degrees after her first session.
  • A patient with a history of lumbar radiculopathy and numbness and a 2-year history of an inability to feel or move her left big toe could move her big toe immediately after her first session of Dry Needling. 
  • A patient who had a history of headaches for years did not respond to medication, botox injections, and prior rounds of physical therapy. After three months of Dry Needling, the patient began resuming exercise, ceased taking medications for headaches, and had a significant improvement in her quality of life. 
  • A competitive runner had stopped running for years due to knee pain despite multiple rounds of physical therapy, gait analysis, and other interventions but can now return to their sport pain-free.
  • Rachel, a 38 yr old jiu-jitsu athlete and analyst, had a history of lumbar radiculopathy, with numbness and loss of ability to move her left big toe due to the nerve damage. Rachel could not go upstairs normally due to weakness in her Gluteals from her low back injury. She could not even practice jiu-jitsu for fear of injuring herself further. After two years of traditional physical therapy and rehabilitation, she was referred to us by an Osteopathic Doctor for Dry Needling. After just one Dry Needling session, Rachel was able to move her back better than she had since the original injury. She was able to move her big toe immediately after the first session! 

Stories like these are the norm, not the exception. Time after time, our patients find results beyond what they believe imaginable. The results are achieved not only from using this beneficial tool (Dry Needling) but also from the deliberate way our therapists choose to use this tool. 

As clinical experts in movement analysis, our Physical Therapists understand the importance of targeting the correct tissue. This specific targeting takes the stress off of an injured area, helping you maintain the gains made in treatment. We are also experts in exercise prescription, so teaching you how to utilize the movement once achieved is critical.

Conclusion: The benefits of dry Needling Outweigh The Cons

Dry Needling is one of the most beneficial techniques we can utilize to shorten recovery time.

It helps get people back to doing the things they love faster. It often provides immediate changes in Range of Motion, reduces pain, and facilitates nerve recovery and muscle activation needed for strength and stability gains.

By combining Dry Needling with the right set of functional movement patterns and exercise prescriptions, people feel better faster and learn the tools they need to stay that way. 

If you’re interested in exploring dry needling therapy in Philadelphia, we are currently accepting new patients. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Dr. JJ Thomas, DPT, MPT, CMTPT

JJ Thomas is the owner and founder of Primal Physical Therapy, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. She is an instructor for Evidence in Motion, and lectures and speaks nationally on the topics of Dry Needling, Functional Movement Analysis, and Functional Anatomy. She has been published in IJSPT for her contribution to a commentary on dry needling and consults as a content expert for organizations such as the APTA and FSBPT. In this role, she played a large part in the addition of a CPT code for dry needling through the AMA and was on the task force that helped identify competency standards for dry needling education nationally. JJ works with US Field Hockey teams, and individuals from US Lacrosse, US Polo, USA Track and Field, NFL, NBA, PLL, MLB, and more.
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