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Is Dry Needling a Fad?

Is Dry Needling a Fad?

by Brian Whittington, PT, DPT, CMTPTLeave a Comment

Dry needling is a treatment technique that uses a thin needle to treat underlying muscular trigger points and/or areas of tissue tenderness. This technique can be used to treat patients with musculoskeletal issues, including neck pain, low back pain, sciatica, muscle strains, IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, fibromyalgia, and many more.

A treatment that can be used for all those issues? Sounds fantastic! Yet every year, there seems to be a new treatment technique that claims to be the latest and greatest at reducing pain and improving function. Many of those techniques don’t seem to stick around. How is dry needling different? Is dry needling a fad?

Here To Stay?

Something is characterized as a fad when its popularity is only for a short duration. While dry needling might have only recently shown up on your radar, it’s been around for several decades.

In the early 1940’s, trigger points were injected with various substances (medications, saline, etc.) to reduce patients’ tender points. Then, in 1979, a study was performed which indicated that needling without the need for the injections portion, i.e., dry needling, produced a unique pain relieving effect1. This spurred the method of dry needling that is commonly used today.

This brief history lesson is important because dry needling is not new and has been used in some form for over 40 years. In fact, it is becoming quite prevalent in physical therapy practice. A 2020 sampling survey of physical therapists indicated that 55% of the responding PT’s perform dry needling during their treatment day2.

Effectiveness Of Dry Needling

There’s always a lot of excitement and energy around new products, technologies, and treatment interventions. This excitement is derived from initial studies that indicated a lot of promise. To understand the staying power of innovation, we need further studies to validate those initial positive outcomes.

When it comes to dry needling, a 2021 study looked to gather a consensus on its effectiveness by looking at 42 prior studies. The purpose was to understand the effects of dry needling vs. other treatments and placebos in the short, medium, and long term.
The results indicated dry needling, performed by a physical therapist, effectively reduced pain in patients with various musculoskeletal conditions. While varying degrees of evidence was statistically noted for each of above-mentioned timeframes, it does seem that dry needling can be a useful technique for certain patients.

Since, dry needling has been in use for several decades, it is a highly prevalent treatment technique used by many physical therapists, and data collected over multiple studies indicates a level of effectiveness; it’s safe to say that dry needling is not a fad, but a technique that is here to stay.

Curious about Dry Needling?

Reach out to an Athletico physical therapist! If you feel this is a treatment that may benefit you, contact your nearest Athletico and talk to one of our dry needling trained clinicians to get started. Schedule a Free Assessment today. Free Assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform.

Request a Free Assessment

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Lewit, Karel. “The needle effect in the relief of myofascial pain.” Pain vol. 6,1 (1979): 83-90. doi:10.1016/0304-3959(79)90142-8
2. Gattie, Eric et al. “A survey of American physical therapists’ current practice of dry needling: Practice patterns and adverse events.” Musculoskeletal science & practice vol. 50 (2020): 102255. doi:10.1016/j.msksp.2020.102255
3. Jorge Sánchez-Infante, PT, MSc, Marcos J Navarro-Santana, PT, MSc, Alfredo Bravo-Sánchez, PT, MSc, Fernando Jiménez-Diaz, MD, PhD, Javier Abián-Vicén, PT, PhD, Is Dry Needling Applied by Physical Therapists Effective for Pain in Musculoskeletal Conditions? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Physical Therapy, Volume 101, Issue 3, March 2021, pzab070,

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About the Author:
Brian Whittington is a physical therapist and regional director for Athletico. Brian is particularly interested in treating knee and shoulder injuries and specializes in post-operative ACL reconstruction rehabilitation. Brian's treatment focus also includes the growing patient population dealing with chronic pain. His practice philosophy is not limited to injury recovery but includes education for injury prevention and general health and wellness. Brian's mission is simple, keeping people moving so they can live optimally healthy lives.

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