I don’t like needles: Dry needling explained

The title of this article is a common response to our suggestion of dry needling. Dry needling is the use of acupuncture needles for the alleviation of muscular tension. With its ancestry in Traditional Chinese Medicine, dry needling differentiates itself by being entirely biomechanically focused.

The two practices are often confused because they look identical. However, needles used with Traditional Chinese Medicine focus on energy points throughout the body to benefit organs and other health conditions, where as dry needling solely aims at restoring function and eliminating chronic pains. The intention behind this article is to demystify and explain the process of dry needling.

The following are some of the commonly held misconceptions that we would like to clear up:

  • Dry needling myth 1: Needles are painful

    Firstly, an acupuncture needle is entirely different from a syringe (or wet needle), it is thinner, does not draw blood and is generally not felt on entry (the “is it in yet” complex).

  • Dry needling myth 2: That the mechanism of dry needling is known

    Secondly, and unfortunately, that the mechanism of dry needling is known. There are many practitioners that would like to think that dry needling is an evidence based practice. However, this is not the case. At this stage we simply know ‘that is works’, not why it works. This does not make it any less effective and it is, indeed, widely used among a variety of health practitioners, from osteopaths, physiotherapists and myotherapists. There are numerous peer reviewed journal articles that look at the effects of dry needling on specific pain conditions, but not into how or why dry needling produces the outcomes that is does.

  • Dry needling myth 3: Dry needling is quackery

    Lastly, that it is quackery. Dry needling, while its mechanism is unknown, is far from quackery. There are numerous studies showing the effects it has towards pain conditions and mobility and is practiced with the utmost precision and care. In order to be able to practice dry needling a practitioner will have had to have studied it specifically or as a part of a myotherapy, physiotherapy or osteopathy course. It is widely accepted as an effective and useful tool in approaches to pain management and rehabilitation, so much so that treatments involving dry needling can be covered by Medicare and private health insurers.

    While we are not suggesting you go out and ask for dry needling, as treatment plans and the methods used should be put together based on the knowledge and experience of the therapist, we would ask that you consider its benefits when it is next suggested.

What to expect from dry needling:

A common effect of dry needling, along with most other manual therapies, is a post treatment tenderness that can last up to 72 hours. This is due to a set of chemicals being released called cytokines, which send a ‘heal me’ signal to the brain in the form of a tenderness or ache. The brain becomes aware of the area’s needs and sends blood and other nutrients to help with the healing process.

The best way to reduce this tenderness period is to assist the underlying mechanism by drinking plenty of water, keeping mobile and enjoying a hot bath or shower the same day after a treatment to promote circulation.


If you have any questions about dry needling or would like to inquire further, send us an inquiry or talk to your practitioner. There are many online resources available and research is constantly being done and updated. So, while this article is based on the best available information today, the information contained above will not always be the most up to date. With this in mind please do some of your own research as well.

Matt with needles sticking out of his arm
Matt with needles sticking out of his arm