Greater Boston Urology Blog

What is Dry Needling?

Today, we've invited our newest pelvic floor physical therapist, Dr. Tonya Yanok, to join us on the blog and discuss dry needling.

If you've ever dealt with painful muscles—you know the ones we're talking about . . . those uncomfortable "knots" that you can't massage or stretch out enough—dry needling can be an extremely effective technique for reducing the pain.

Let's get to it.

What is dry needling?

DR. YANOK: With dry needling, we take very thin needles and place them deep into the muscle belly to relieve irritable areas. These disposable needles are made of stainless steel and measure from 1.5 to 4 inches long.

Is dry needling the same as acupuncture?

DR. YANOK: No! Dry needling is easily confused with acupuncture, since acupuncture uses the same needles. But dry needling and acupuncture are very different techniques.

Acupuncture has its origins in Eastern medicine and has been around for thousands of years. With acupuncture, the needles are placed in superficial areas of the skin (called meridians) that correlate with other areas of the body. Acupuncturists typically leave the needles in for a certain length of time.

Dry needling, on the other hand, is a modern technique that's based in Western medicine. It involves inserting needles into areas of the muscle or tissue known as "trigger points." The idea is that by manipulating the trigger point, you can reduce tightness and improve blood flow, among other things. Dry needling is sometimes called intramuscular stimulation.

An important note: Dry needling rarely works by itself. Instead, it's usually part of a more comprehensive strength, coordination, and mobility program.

Does dry needling hurt?

DR. YANOK: Despite the word "needle," which can be a turn-off to many people, dry needling is a very different—and better—experience than what it's like to get your yearly flu shot.

Dry needling doesn't inject any fluid (which is why it's called "dry"). While each individual patient's experience will vary, depending on their sensitivity, dry needling usually results in little to no discomfort. In general, dry needling is extremely safe and well-tolerated.

Where do you dry needle?

DR. YANOK: Dry needling can be done in most muscles of the body by a trained professional, like a pelvic floor physical therapist. In relation to pelvic floor physical therapy, I often use dry needling to great effect on the surrounding muscles, such as the ones in the lower back, buttocks, hips, and even neck.

Remember, when it comes to the human body, everything is connected. Dysfunction in other areas of the body can contribute to pelvic health issues.

Does dry needling require specialized training or licensure?

DR. YANOK: Currently, there's no licensing board for dry needling, which is why you must be careful when evaluating anyone offering this service. Always look for practitioners with specialized training in this area.

In terms of my background, in addition to my doctoral degree in physical therapy, I took the level 1 dry needling course with the International Association of Academies of Orthopedic Medicine (IAOM). I adhere to their requirements and lab assessment to be certified with their program.

Is dry needling covered by insurance?

DR. YANOK: No, dry needling is not covered by most insurance, so patients will need to pay out of pocket. However, pelvic floor physical therapy evaluations often are covered by insurance. During your evaluation, we can discuss if you're a good candidate for dry needling and how we can move forward to get you that treatment in the most economical fashion.

If I want to try dry needling, what should I do?

DR. YANOK: All dry needling that we do at GBU requires a pelvic floor physical therapy evaluation to assess the body holistically and to ensure we're treating the right areas. Contact our office to get on the schedule and see if dry needling is right for you!

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