When Darlene Harmon, PT, describes dry needling, people usually ask if it’s similar to acupuncture.

“We use the same needles, but that’s where the similarity ends,” said Harmon, a Physical Therapist in Physical Rehabilitation Services at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC).

Dry needling – sometimes called clinical or Western acupuncture – relieves muscle pain and helps people who suffer from a chronic pain disorder called myofascial pain syndrome. Its name is the opposite of wet needling, which is a flu shot, immunization or other liquid injection. Dry needling goes back to the groundbreaking research of a physician in the 1940s who identified all of the body’s trigger points.

Targeting Trigger Points for Healing

Let’s explore how dry needling can ease shoulder pain, one of the most common complaints for people from athletes to travelers to gardeners or anyone who stresses their shoulder muscles.

Harmon would begin a dry needling session by finding the trigger points associated with the shoulder pain. This requires her skill as a physical therapist because the shoulder’s anatomy includes several joints and 20 muscle groups. After locating the patient’s trigger points, Harmon inserts the thin needle, which is much smaller than a typical hypodermic needle.

“There is some muscle soreness the day after a treatment,” said Harmon. “It’s important to follow up with stretching and icing to help alleviate this.”

Dry needling reduces inflammation, increases blood flow and decreases toxins in the soft tissue. At the same time, dry needling disrupts the pain signals being sent to the central nervous system. All of this works to jump start healing.

YRMC Plans Your Prescription for Pain Relief

At YRMC Physical Rehabilitation Services, dry needling is combined with stretching, strengthening and exercise to improve balance, coordination and posture, which physical therapists call neuromuscular re-education.

“This combination is effective for people,” Harmon said. “Dry needling helps people regain muscle control and movement patterns so they can get even greater benefit from physical therapy sessions.”

Most people need between two to eight dry needling sessions for full healing. Sessions are spaced at least a week apart, giving the muscle time to recover. Some patients may return in a year for a refresher.

Explore Dry Needling in October and Beyond

“Dry needling is another tool physical therapists can use for certain patients,” said Harmon, who underwent special training to learn dry needling. “It’s an excellent service YRMC offers for the community.”

October is National Physical Therapy Month, a good time to find out if dry needling is right for you. To learn more, contact YRMC Physical Rehabilitation Services at the YRMC Wellness Center online or by calling (928) 771-5131.