Otherwise known as intramuscular stimulation (IMS) or trigger point dry needling, dry needling is a skilled intervention that helps relieve neuromuscular pain and increase muscular function. This practice should not be confused with acupuncture, which is based in the traditions of ancient Chinese medicine; dry needling is unique to western medicine.

When executing this technique, the therapist will use a very thin needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate myofascial trigger points.  These trigger points are also referred to as muscle knots, or a motor point (the most excitable area of a muscle). The needle stays below the skins surface throughout treatment, threading in and out of the muscle knot.  When the needle is inserted into the trigger point it aids in the release of the shortened muscle, allowing it to relax through a twitch response or ‘reflexive spasm’.

While receiving this treatment; clients can expect to feel a dull to moderate aching sensation referred to as “deqi”. Effective dry needling requires the client to experience “deqi” as well as a local twitch response. Physiotherapists use dry needling to release trigger points, restore efficient muscle contraction (decrease muscle tension), increase range of motion, and decrease pain by releasing opioids (the body’s natural pain killers).

Dry needling has been proven to be a widely effective choice of treatment for many clients, particularly for low back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, knee osteoarthritis (OA), hip OA, as well as headaches, piriformis syndrome, and whiplash.

Stephanie Bourbeau is a Registered Physiotherapist and performs both dry needling and acupuncture after completing courses with the Advanced Physical Therapy Education Institute.