I recently slept “wrong” and pulled muscles in my neck. A common mishap and like many of you, it happens a few times a year. Despite stretching, foam rolling, and even a cervical pillow, there’s always a morning that I wake up with a pain and inability to turn my head.

After 2 weeks of no improvement, I contacted my primary care physician. She recommended a steroid, muscle relaxer and physical therapy. The muscle-relaxer helped as it allowed me to sleep. However, the pain and limited neck movement persisted, and I was happy to see a physical therapist. After an excellent and very thorough evaluation at my hospital they recommended dry needling. I’ve completed several sessions where I warm up on a machine, stretch and then allow the therapist to insert thin needles into the muscles that are knotted, spasming, and causing pain. While the experience isn’t necessary pleasant, the relief is significant.

The data currently show a decrease in pain with use of dry needling, though there is not consistent data showing improvements in functional outcome (i.e. my neck feels better but is not necessary stronger, or with more mobility).

How does dry needling work?

Like acupuncture, dry needling is the practice of inserting thin, flexible needles into the body. The Chinese practice of acupuncture is based on inserting the needles in certain “meridians” in your body to redirect the energy known as “chi” (chee). Dry Needling appears to be the Western version of acupuncture where the needles are inserted in “myofascial trigger points”1 The available scientific data shows that dry needling appears to relieve musculoskeletal pain.2 While the exact mechanism continues to be studied, I can attest that a few moments of discomfort is worth the release.

1 Lucas N, Macaskill P, Irwig L, Moran R, Bogduk N. Reliability of physical examination for diagnosis of myofascial trigger points: a systematic review of the literature. Clin J Pain. 2009;25:80-89.

2 Gattie E, Cleland JA, Snodgrass S. The Effectiveness of Trigger Point Dry Needling for Musculoskeletal Conditions by Physical Therapists: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017 Mar;47(3):133-149.

Patient-focused treatment, and an individualized approach to oncology means Dr. Norleena Gullett is not just treating cancer, she's treating the whole person.