A History of Dry Needling
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
We have had a lot of questions about dry needling from our patients. The background and history of dry needling is interesting and gives us a better understanding of why this technique is so effective.
Many people incorrectly assume that “Dry Needling” must have some relation to acupuncture, which is based on Eastern traditional medicine. Acupuncture aims to influence “energy” and “meridians.” Dry Needling, conversely, is based on Western medicine principles and scientific, research-based conclusions. Dry Needling is not historically tied to acupuncture, but effectively treats musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. The only similarity between the two is that they share a common tool, a fine needle.
In the 1940’s Dr. Janet Travell (Dr. Travell was well respected and became President John F. Kennedy’s White House physician) and Dr. David Simmons proposed injections into myofascial trigger points (hyper-irritable spots in muscle). These physicians injected various substances including corticosteroids, analgesics, saline, etc. into these trigger points to treat soreness and inflamed muscles. This was effective in treating these ailments. These treatments lead to further research utilizing placebos in a control group and injections of medications in another group. The results were often the same, no significant difference when the medication was used. In 1979, Dr. Karel Lewit concluded that the effect of injections was more a result of mechanical stimulation of a trigger point with the needle alone (not the medication being injected). Since then, “Dry Needling” has been widely used for the treatment of trigger points.
More recent studies have found Dry Needling to be most effective when local twitch responses are created, most likely because of rapid depolarization of the involved muscle fibers, which manifests as local twitches. After the muscle has finished twitching, the spontaneous electrical activity subsides, and the pain and dysfunction decrease dramatically. Acupuncture technique does not aim to necessarily even pierce muscle tissue, nor cause this important muscle twitch response that is definitive of Dry Needling.
From origins in “wet” trigger point injections performed by physicians grounded in Western Medicine to the use of a “dry” fine filament needle by specialty trained physical therapists, the technique of Dry Needling has had a fascinating evolution. Now by omitting unnecessary medication (and side effects), Dry Needling has established itself as a treatment that is minimally invasive, low risk, and cost effective. We have seen incredible effects of using dry needling at All In Physical Therapy and know it will continue to be beneficial to our patients.
– Jason Allred DP