What Does Dry Needling Do? Does It Hurt? What Are The Side Effects?

What Does Dry Needling Do? Does It Hurt? What Are The Side Effects?


In today's world, our bodies face various physical challenges, from enduring hours of poor posture to engaging in excessive physical activities. When searching for muscle pain relief treatments, many people discover dry needling, what it is, how it works, and why it is beneficial for their condition.

What exactly is dry needling? In a nutshell, it involves inserting thin metal needles into specific areas of the body where the patient feels pain. This procedure helps to release muscle tension and relieve pain by targeting deeper tissue layers. This treatment is commonly recommended for chronic muscle pain, sports injuries, movement constraints, and conditions such as chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, and sciatica.

At first, people who learn about dry needling may wonder if it hurts or if it is a safe and comfortable treatment. Some may even be apprehensive upon seeing the needles and consider opting for a massage instead. However, what you are about to discover may help demystify any fears associated with needles.

Here you will find answers to everything you need to know about this type of therapy. At P1 Athlete, our team of physiotherapists is more than happy to answer your questions about dry needling therapy. So let’s get to it.

What Does Dry Needling Do?

Definition and Mechanism

Dry needling is a modern, science-based intervention in which the therapist inserts a thin, sterile needle into the patient’s skin. Grounded in Western medicine principles, it targets myofascial trigger points to relieve pain, enhance movement, and aid in muscle relaxation. By stimulating these trigger points, the needles help relax the muscles and relieve tension. As a result, dry needling helps decrease pain and recover movement capabilities in specific parts of the body.

When experiencing muscle pain caused by tension, stress, or overuse, people commonly describe these painful areas as 'muscle knots.' These knots are essentially trigger points; specific areas within the muscles where tension accumulates, causing pain and restricting movement.  What dry needling does is it specifically targets these trigger points to alleviate the pain.

Think of dry needling as a complementary treatment to massage, where the physiotherapist targets deeper layers of tissue, specifically the myofascial components. The term "myofascial" refers to the combination of "myo" (muscle) and "fascia" (connective tissue). 

The goal of both, dry needling and massage, is to manipulate the body's soft tissues to achieve pain relief and improve function. Massage does this through direct manipulation with hands and tools, applying pressure and movement to muscles and connective tissues. This helps to break up knots, increase blood flow, and promote relaxation throughout the body's systems.

Dry needling, although more targeted, operates under a similar principle but approaches the problem at a more specific point. By inserting needles directly into the myofascial trigger points, dry needling stimulates these tight muscle spots to release, as if you press a “reset button” on areas of intense muscle contraction. This release not only reduces pain but also stimulates the muscle to begin healing and regain normal function.

Benefits of Dry Needling

The positive effects of dry needling extend beyond addressing pain. In fact, many health professionals consider it an effective treatment for enhancing overall body function and improving quality of life. Let’s explore how beneficial dry needling is, and the specific conditions why it is usually recommended.

One of the most significant benefits of dry needling is its ability to quickly relieve chronic pain. Patients often report feeling better either during the treatment itself or by the end of the day. This occurs because dry needling targets specific myofascial trigger points, reducing discomfort almost immediately.

Another benefit patients often notice is the rapid recovery of flexibility and mobility in the treated area. As dry needling helps release muscle tension, it leads to the relaxation of muscles and joints, enhancing their recovery. This makes dry needling highly beneficial for athletes or individuals who frequently engage in physical activities.

This type of treatment is also suitable for those looking to regain full functional movement in their daily activities, such as post-surgery patients, individuals recovering from injuries, and the elderly.

Along with reducing pain and aiding in mobility recovery, dry needling also helps enhance muscle strength. This is because it reduces muscle tightness and improves blood flow to the treated tissues. As patients undergoing dry needling therapy gain more muscle mobility, this allows them to engage in more exercise and regain strength.

Health researchers have demonstrated that dry needling is effective as a combined treatment with exercise, active movement, and manual therapy. Its practice is indeed a holistic approach to care, integrating with physical therapy and other healthcare practices. For maximized effectiveness, dry needling is often complemented with other treatments, such as physiotherapy, massage, and cupping therapy.

The Process of Dry Needling

Techniques Used in Dry Needling

Dry needling can involve several techniques, each suited to different therapeutic needs. The most common technique is trigger point needling. Depending on the depth at which the needles are applied, other well-known techniques include superficial dry needling and deep tissue dry needling. Based on the patient's specific conditions and treatment goals, the physiotherapist may recommend one particular technique or the other.

Let’s discuss the different dry needling techniques, according to how deep the needles are applied.

Trigger Point Dry Needling

In the trigger point dry needling technique, thin needles are inserted directly into myofascial trigger points as described earlier. By stimulating these points, the needle helps to 'reset' the muscle, releasing any knots or tight spots.

Let’s explain a little bit better in which level of tissue these trigger points are located. The skin has three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous layer. In trigger point dry needling, the needle penetrates these three layers, reaching the deeper muscle tissues and myofascial. As opposed to acupressure or digitopuncture, which only target the surface of the skin, dry needling reaches points located right within the muscles.

Superficial Dry Needling

As the name suggests, superficial dry needling involves inserting needles just under the skin's surface. This means that the therapist targets the epidermis and the uppermost part of the dermis. The purpose of this technique is to interact with the sensory nerves of the skin, rather than stimulate the muscle. Superficial dry needling helps modulate pain and reduce muscle tension indirectly through neural mechanisms.

Deep Tissue Dry Needling

The third technique we will cover here is deep tissue dry needling. As the name suggests, this technique goes deeper into the muscle tissues, targeting not only the trigger points but also the deeper muscular and connective tissues.

Deep Tissue Dry Needling is typically recommended for patients experiencing severe or chronic pain that has not responded to more superficial treatments. By reaching deeper layers of muscle and fascia, this technique can effectively address persistent pain sources that are not accessible through other methods.

What to Expect During a Session

At this point, you are probably wondering what to expect during a dry needling session. Do the needles hurt? Is it a painless procedure?  At P1, we have everything you need to have a comfortable and relaxing experience, with a caring and professional team that will assist you at all times, and will explain the full procedure. In general terms, a dry needling session can be described as follows:

Before the actual needling begins, our specialized physiotherapists will conduct a thorough assessment to identify the areas of concern. You will be able to indicate the areas of pain, and we will carefully examine the area, palpating the skin to locate trigger points and muscle tightness.

Once the trigger points are identified, we proceed to clean and sterilize the skin of the area we are going to treat. We do so according to the highest hygienic standards and conditions, to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for each patient.

After cleaning the area, our physiotherapists will gently insert the sterile needle into the identified trigger points. You may feel a little pinch as the needle penetrates the skin, but this sensation is typically mild and brief. Our experienced practitioners focus on making the treatment as comfortable as possible, so you can fully enjoy this relaxing moment.

When the physiotherapist inserts the needle, the goal is to induce a twitch response from the muscle. This can feel like a sudden brief contraction in the area, but there is nothing to worry about. Actually, it is a good sign that the trigger point has been effectively stimulated.

After the twitch response, all you need to do is just lay down and rest for a few minutes. During this time, the needles remain in place, allowing the therapeutic effects to take hold. These few minutes of the session are the moment when the body begins its natural healing process.

The session will conclude when the therapist removes the needles from the trigger points. Many patients experience immediate relief from pain and an enhancement in their range of motion right after a dry needling session. Right after the dry needling sessions, patients can usually continue with their regular daily life.

And that is about it. As you can see, dry needling resembles a relaxing massage session. As professionals handle the needles with care and attention, it is a safe and hygienic procedure.

Potential Side Effects

As with any health treatment, dry needling can also have its side effects. Usually, these are quite mild, and overall, this type of treatment is widely considered safe.

The most common side effect is post-treatment muscle soreness, which patients describe as similar to the feeling after an intense workout. Also, mild fatigue may appear after a session. Both of these side effects typically last about one to two days and are normal signs that the body is adapting and healing from the therapy.

Bruising may occasionally occur at the needle insertion sites, especially in areas with delicate or densely vascular tissues. These bruises are usually small and resolve quickly.
It is also important to mention that there are specific situations where dry needling may not be recommended. Individuals with bleeding disorders or those who are on anticoagulant therapy should avoid this treatment due to an increased risk of bleeding and bruising. Also, dry needling is generally not recommended during pregnancy, as the effects on pregnancy are not well-studied.

It's crucial for patients to discuss their full medical history with their healthcare provider to determine if dry needling is a safe option for their particular health conditions.

Why Choose P1athlete for Dry Needling?

At P1athlete, we pride ourselves on being a top sports training and performance center. Our community’s health and well-being are the most important things to us. Our professional expert team works to help athletes, sports players, and people seeking a healthier way of life to improve their life quality and performance.

If you are considering dry needling therapy and you still have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you choose the best treatment for you, with personalized assistance and expert advice just for your needs. P1 also works with the latest technology and equipment, offering all the best facilities you can expect from a training and performance center founded by experienced professionals.


As we said at the beginning of this guide, in today's fast-paced world, our bodies face many challenges. Dry needling offers a proven solution with immediate and tangible benefits. When practiced by professionals, it is an effective and safe treatment for muscle pain, stiffness, injuries, as well as other conditions.

Whether you're an athlete looking to enhance performance or simply seeking relief from chronic pain, dry needling could be the key to improving your quality of life. You can get started anytime you want. Just imagine: in just a few clicks, you can be on the fast track to healing your muscle pain and improving your overall well-being.


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