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Dry Needling: An Alternative Approach to Alleviating Back Pain

Back pain is one of the common ailments that affects 80% of people at some point. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine has yet to find a definitive solution to alleviate it. Despite costly surgeries and pharmaceuticals, more clinicians recommend alternative medicine, such as dry needling, as a first approach.

What is Dry Needling?

Dr. Janet Travell introduced dry needling in the 1940s. She found that she could reduce her patients' musculoskeletal pain by inserting thin needles into aggravated muscle tissues and moving them around. The movement of the needle elicits a visible local twitch response (LTR) in the problematic muscle, which patients describe as a "cramp" or "spasm." The needles are called "dry" because they do not contain an anesthetic. Although dry needling shares similarities with acupuncture, it is a technique offered by licensed physical therapists and chiropractors who have received specific training.

The Psychological Toll of Back Pain

Back pain can have a significant psychological impact, with 72% of chronic back pain sufferers reporting feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness that interfere with their daily lives. Depression can also worsen chronic pain, creating a vicious cycle.

Dry Needling for Back Pain: What You Need to Know

If you are considering dry needling for back pain, keep the following in mind:

  • Reported benefits: According to experts, dry needling can increase blood flow to the treatment area, decrease tissue banding, induce biochemical changes, and decrease spontaneous electrical activity in the treated tissue, correlated with improved pain pressure thresholds.

  • Trained practitioners: In the US, physical therapists and chiropractors perform dry needling. Look for practitioners with specialized training in the technique, typically requiring 54 hours on top of their professional license.

  • Minimally-invasive with some risks: Dry needling is generally safe and effective, but potential side effects include needle insertion pain, muscle soreness, fatigue, or bruising.

  • Effectiveness: While evidence suggests dry needling is better than no treatment, sham treatment, and other treatments for pain reduction, large, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are necessary to determine its effectiveness fully.

  • Part of a comprehensive treatment plan: Dry needling for back pain is often one part of a broader physical therapy program, which may include other therapeutic techniques, such as joint or soft tissue mobilization, stretching, and strengthening exercises.


In conclusion, dry needling is an alternative approach to alleviating back pain that complements your treatment plan. Although it has risks, many people have reported benefits from this technique. If you are considering dry needling, finding a qualified practitioner with specialized training in the technique is crucial.

Additionally, it is essential to recognize the psychological toll back pain can take on individuals. Seeking alternative treatments, like dry needling, can relieve and improve your overall well-being.

Incorporating a comprehensive treatment plan that may include dry needling, physical therapy, and other therapeutic techniques like yoga can help manage back pain and improve your quality of life.

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