What Is Dry Needling?

Around the same time that I broke my neck this past summer, a friend of mine was in a terrible car wreck. Whenever I posted about my healing process and its progress, she updated me about hers. After my post about using acupuncture as part of my therapy, she asked me if I tried dry needling yet.

I hadn’t. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it. But after my friend told me about it, I knew I needed to try it.

What Is Dry Needling?

dry needling

Thanks to Chicago Spine and Sports for the image.

Dry needling is a technique that physical therapists use to relieve pain and tightness. The therapist places a plain needle without medicine, a “dry” needle, through your skin and into a specific area of your muscle.

Normally, the targeted area is a trigger point. For this reason, dry needling is also sometimes referred to as trigger point dry needling (TDN). Trigger points are spots in your muscle that are tight or tender to the touch. In some cases, pressure on one of these points may send pain to another spot in your body.

It’s important to note that, while dry needling resembles acupuncture; these two are not the same thing. Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine, and dry needling is a part of Western medicine. Although they may both have similar goals of releasing tension in a muscle, they have different ways to go about it.

Before You Try Dry Needling

Before you decide to try dry needling, it’s important to know that this procedure can be quite uncomfortable and sometimes a little painful. Although the pain is short-term, this treatment is not a happy, restful experience like acupuncture.

What to Expect

After you’ve had dry needling, you can expect to feel sore. You may not feel sore immediately, but it may creep in over the next day or so. In order to reduce any soreness you may experience, drink lots of water and take hot baths. Basically, treat yourself like you’ve had a tough workout at the gym. Or, if you’re not familiar with that feeling, treat yourself like you’ve got a cold.

If you have bruises (which happens sometimes), apply ice. Make sure that you don’t ice sore muscles since your muscles will probably respond better to heat in this situation.

It’s possible that you may feel kind of “loopy” or out of it after your treatment. You may also feel tired, nauseous, emotional, or giggly. All of these feelings are normal and will fade over the next hour or two.

My Dry Needling Experience

After my friend and I talked about dry needling, I was ready to try it. When I was choosing my physical therapist, I made sure to choose an office that offered this treatment. I was so excited to try it! Personally, I love trying new things, and I am a really big fan of anything that will possibly help my neck feel better.

I was in physical therapy for a week or two before I got to try dry needling. We decided to try treating my upper trapezius, which has been a tight and overactive muscle my whole life.

My physical therapist talked to me about all of the feelings and sensations I might experience while she was performing the treatment. She also told me that I might hear a small pinging noise, which would be the needle hitting the base of my skull. When I said I was ready, she began.

All those warnings she gave were no joke. Dry needling was really uncomfortable. My therapist would stick a needle in a spot and then move it around. It felt like she was playing spin the needle in my neck muscle.

She would move the needle until she found a spot that would make my upper trapezius contract almost to the point that it felt like a muscle cramp. Like I said, this muscle has been overactive on me for a long time, so she didn’t have to move very far to find issues.

How I Felt Afterward

I felt terrible afterward! For about 48 hours I felt like I had the flu. I drank water, took warm baths, slept a lot, and tried to massage the muscle. As promised, the pain stopped almost immediately, and I went back to feeling fine.

When I went back for therapy, my therapist (a different one from the therapist who performed the treatment) noticed that my head and neck were moving better. I personally noticed that the sharp pain that would prevent my head from rotating past a certain point was completely missing. Now, when I looked to the side, my head rotated as far as it could go and then it stopped.

Would I Recommend It?

It’s possible that dry needling is not for everyone. With my situation (where I had constant low-grade pain), I think dry needling was very beneficial. For a fact, it stopped my constant pain.

I wasn’t sure what this treatment would actually do for me, but the ability to go back to living a pain-free life was worth the gamble. Getting rid of my pain was my main goal, but the increased mobility that I also got was a nice bonus.

If you’re thinking about trying dry needling, I recommend that you find a reputable practitioner and talk to that person to find out if you are a good candidate.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.


  1. Jess on February 22, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    Yowza! I didn’t have it done to my skull (but that sounds a bit traumatizing!) my doc worked throughout my lower traps and rhomboids. No metal “ping” sounds— but certainly some electric-cramping sensations, sort of like it someone turned up an e-stim machine a bit too high.

    Glad to hear it improved your ROM! I still can’t believe it resolved my months of headaches and neck agony after one or two sessions. If you ever do it again, chug a ton of water and promptly take a nap. I, too, felt quite yucky afterward, albeit only for the evening.

    Keep on keepin’ on! 🙂

    • Sarah Stockett on February 22, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      Thanks, Jess! So glad to hear this ended your months of headaches!