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How Dry Needling Can Unlock Relief For Chronic Pain

How Dry Needling Can Unlock Relief For Chronic Pain

Recognizing Chronic Pain

Millions of individuals worldwide suffer from a complex ailment known as chronic pain, which has a significant negative influence on their quality of life.1-2 Chronic pain is a heavy load that can range from fibromyalgia to back pain and frequently prompts people to look for efficient alleviation. Many patients wanting relief for chronic pain still look for complementary therapies that address the underlying source of their pain, even if conventional treatments like medicine and physical therapy have certain advantages. Dry needling has become a viable method in recent years, offering specific pain alleviation to individuals with chronic pain.3-7 We’ll examine the causes underlying chronic pain in this blog post and how dry needling may be an effective therapeutic strategy.

Understanding Chronic Pain

It’s important to understand the complexities of chronic pain before diving into the role of dry needling. Acute pain acts as a warning signal for injury or tissue damage; however, chronic pain lasts long after the primary injury has healed. It involves complex interactions between the musculoskeletal, neurological, and psychological systems, leading to a painful cycle that may be difficult to escape.8-12 

Myofascial pain, with or without trigger points, is a common cause of chronic pain.13 Trigger points, which are extremely sensitive areas inside tense bands of muscle fibers, is a significant contributing factor to chronic pain. These trigger points may result in both localized and referred pain, which can cause generalized discomfort and dysfunction.14-15 Furthermore, abnormal pain processing in the central nervous system, which intensifies feelings and feeds the cycle of pain, is frequently linked to chronic pain.16-21

The Role of Dry Needling: Physiological Mechanisms

Physical therapists utilize dry needling to treat chronic pain.  The effects of dry needling lend themselves to managing chronic pain and the conditions underlying the pain. This is due to the effectiveness of dry needling in treating chronic pain, which lies in its ability to modulate various physiological processes within the body. Research has shown that dry needling can have a variety of effects on different levels:22-25

  1. Local Effects:
    • Neuromuscular effects: Inserting the needles into trigger points can help release muscle tension, reducing localized pain.
    • Increased Blood Flow: The insertion of needles can stimulate local blood circulation, which may aid in tissue healing and reduce inflammation.
    • Muscle Relaxation: By targeting tight bands of muscle tissue, dry needling can help relax the muscles, improve flexibility, and restore normal movement patterns.
    • Release of Trigger Points: Dry needling can deactivate trigger points, which are hyperirritable spots in the muscle associated with pain and dysfunction.
    • Neurological Modulation: Dry needling can affect the nervous system locally, altering the transmission of pain signals from the muscle to the central nervous system.
  1. Segmental Effects:
    • Segmental Pain Relief: Dry needling can relieve segmental pain by targeting specific muscle groups or areas, particularly in areas with referred pain patterns.
    • Modulate neurotransmitters in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord: Dry needling influences the activation of descending pain mechanisms through endogenous opioid, monoamine, and endocannabinoid systems. This modulation helps regulate pain perception and reduce hypersensitivity in chronic pain conditions.
  1. Systemic Effects:
    • Pain Modulation: Dry needling can stimulate the release of endogenous opioids and other neurotransmitters, modulating pain perception throughout the body.
    • Neuroendocrine Response: The insertion of needles can trigger a neuroendocrine response, leading to the release of hormones such as endorphins and cortisol, which can have systemic effects on pain modulation and stress reduction.
    • Autonomic Effects: Dry needling may influence the autonomic nervous system, leading to changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and other physiological parameters.

It’s important to note that the effects of dry needling can vary from person to person, and its efficacy depends on various factors, such as the individual’s condition, the practitioner’s skill, and the specific technique used. Additionally, dry needling is often part of a comprehensive treatment plan that may include other interventions such as exercise, manual therapy, and education.

Why Dry Needling Works for Chronic Pain

Dry needling offers several advantages as a treatment modality for chronic pain:

  • Targeted Relief: Unlike oral medications that may have systemic effects, dry needling allows for precise targeting of trigger points, addressing the source of pain directly.
  • Minimally Invasive: Dry needling involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin, making it a minimally invasive procedure with minimal risk of complications.
  • Adjunct to Comprehensive Treatment: Dry needling is often used in conjunction with other therapies, such as physical therapy exercises, manual therapy techniques, and lifestyle modifications, to provide comprehensive pain management.
  • Tailored Approach: Each dry needling session can be customized based on the individual’s specific pain patterns and needs, ensuring personalized care and optimized outcomes.


Chronic pain is a multifaceted condition that requires a holistic approach to management. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, dry needling has emerged as a valuable tool in the treatment of chronic pain, offering targeted relief and addressing underlying muscular dysfunction. By understanding the physiological mechanisms at play and incorporating dry needling into a comprehensive treatment plan, patients can take significant steps toward reclaiming their lives from the grip of chronic pain. As research continues to shed light on its efficacy and safety, dry needling holds promise as a cornerstone of modern pain management practices, providing hope and healing for those living with chronic pain.  

If you’re interested in learning how Structure & Function Education’s Pentamodal Method of dry needling can help you learn to manage your patient’s pain, enroll today in Foundations of Dry Needling for Orthopedic Rehab & Sports Performance at structureandfunction.net. Or, if you have already taken SFDN1, join us at Advanced Dry Needling for Orthopedic Rehab & Sports Performance course (SFDN2) to further your education in this complex area.  Check out structureandfunction.net for further information.

Brian Hortz, PhD AT

Born in Camden, NJ, Brian received a B.A. in physical education with a concentration in sports medicine from Denison University, a masters degree in sports medicine from Ohio University and his doctoral degree in Exercise Science from Ohio State University.

Dr. Hortz is an Instructor and the Director of Research and Education for Structure & Function Education. He has been teaching with Structure & Function Education for several years. Dr. Hortz teaches the Foundations and Advanced courses.

In addition to his work with Structure & Function Education, he also has a concierge practice and continues to work one-on-one with athletes to make them well.


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