What is dry needling and how does it benefit athletes?

Dry needling. What is it? No, it’s not the latest fad in knitting. It’s a form of intramuscular therapy that helps alleviate pain and improve mobility.

“It’s a form of intramuscular manual therapy and neuromodulation to sort of reset the system to help treat pain and improve movement,” Matt Rollag, DPT, a board-certified sports physical therapist at the Sanford Fieldhouse in Sioux Falls, said. “The term ‘dry needling’ is used because it’s done without any type of medication or injection.”

Dry needling can be confused for acupuncture since they both use the same types of thin filiform needles. While there are similarities between the two forms of therapy, Rollag points out that they have different origins and focuses.

“Acupuncture is based on energy fields and traditional Chinese medicine, while dry needling is part of modern Western medicine and is much more localized to a specific area of pain or dysfunction,” Rollag said. “Think of it as placing needles at the site of a trigger point.”

Benefits for athletes

Athletes are on the go now more than ever and rarely have breaks in between sporting events. All that time on the move puts a ton of extra strain on their bodies. Dry needling can bring relief to sprains, strains, tendinitis, bursitis, dislocations or other pains an athlete may be feeling.

Dry needling will help calm down and reset their muscles if they are having spasms, increased tone or soreness in an area,” Rollag said. “Dry needling improves pain control and reduces muscle tension so a lot of times a couple sessions of this can help the patient progress.”

After receiving dry needling treatment, patients may experience a dull ache or a sensation that may feel like muscle spasms. That short-term pain will pass and be followed by increased mobility and relaxation in the muscle.

“I see patients experience a very short-lived sharp muscle twitch, which is likely related to the release of the trigger point,” Rollag said. “Other times patients will report slight achiness of the muscle initially followed by feelings of looseness in the muscle. Overall, the short-lived uncomfortable feeling will be worth the benefits they experience.”

Sometimes patients are reluctant to give dry needling a try due to their fear of needles. When this happens, Rollag and his team educate patients on exactly what occurs during dry needling.

“Those feelings are common and totally understandable,” Rollag said. “I tell athletes that the needles used during this treatment are extremely thin compared to a flu shot needle. I make sure they are in a comfortable and relaxed position. If the athlete is still apprehensive, I recommend we try some other types of treatments and wait until they are less apprehensive before proceeding with needling.”

To qualify for dry needling, an athlete has an evaluation to see if the therapy would benefit them.

“We figure out the patient’s short and long-term goals, any current injuries or impairments they have and the likely cause of those,” Rollag said. “As well as any previous treatments or physical therapy services that may have been successful for them in the past.”

Choose Sanford Sports

Whether it’s dry needling or another form of physical therapy, the team at Sanford Sports works diligently with their patients to ensure they can get back to the activities they love with no pain or restrictions.

“Our sports physical therapy team is incredibly experienced, knowledgeable and passionate about doing what’s best for each patient,” Rollag said. “Our sports physical therapists are well integrated with sports medicine physicians, athletic trainers and performance coaches to ensure the athletes have a great experience at all phases of their rehab journey.”


Sanford Sports
Read more

Related Posts

Benefits of utilizing personal training
Using heart rate zones to get the most out of your workout
Tips for staying healthy in the new year