Dry Needling With Electrical Stimulation: A Pain Solution?
by Hollie Champion, PT, DPT, PCES
Dry needling with electrical stimulation is a physical therapy treatment where your physical therapist inserts thin needles into trigger points in the body, and an electric current flows through the needles into your muscles.
This treatment can provide pain relief and many other benefits, which is why more and more of my patients are asking about it as a possible remedy.
In this article, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about dry needling with electrical stimulation — what it treats, the benefits, who would likely be a good candidate, and who shouldn't have the treatment.
- Dry needling with electrical stimulation offers multiple benefits including muscle tension relief, improved flexibility, enhanced blood flow, and significant pain reduction.
- The electrical current helps to release certain chemicals in the central nervous system that can reduce pain.
- While effective for many, it's not suitable for individuals with electrical devices implanted into their bodies.
- Key Takeaways
- Dry Needling vs. Wet Needling vs. Acupuncture
- What is Dry Needling with Electrical Stimulation?
- What Does Dry Needling with Electrical Stimulation Treat?
- The Benefits of Dry Needling with E-Stim
- Side Effects
- Who's It For?
- Who's It Not For?
- Find Out If Dry Needling with E-Stim is Right for You
Dry needling is a physical therapy treatment that can help patients who have pain. The physical therapist will insert small, thin needles into various muscle trigger points.
With dry needling, no medication is added to the tip of the needle, unlike wet needling. Wet needling is when the needle has a steroid or analgesic on the tip.
With dry needling, the needles will stimulate the nervous system and help to increase blood flow to the muscle. This treatment is designed to help relieve pain and improve your range of motion.
While dry needling may sound like acupuncture, there are a couple of differences between the two. For one, acupuncture needles stay in the body for longer periods of time. In contrast, dry needling involves inserting the needles for less time to release a trigger point and to stimulate the area.
Also, the concept of acupuncture is to work with the energy in the body by focusing on the meridians, and dry needling is more focused on treating pain or increasing function.
Electrical stimulation can be added to the needles to create an electric current that can cause muscle contractions and other benefits. When electric stimulation is added to a dry needling procedure, it is called dry needling with electrical stimulation, or e-stim. Using a dry needling stim unit also effectively treats painful tendons, ligaments, nerves, bones, and fascia.
The electrical frequency helps to release certain chemicals in the central nervous system that help to reduce pain and make positive changes in the body. So, dry needling with stim can increase the efficacy of your physical therapy treatment.
The low-frequency waves help to increase blood flow to the injured or inflamed muscles, which can help speed up the healing process.
Dry needling with electrical stimulation is typically used for people with pain or mobility issues.
For example, myofascial pain syndrome is a major cause of muscle pain, and it's a common issue that can be treated with electro needling. According to a review, around 1/3 of people who have chronic muscle pain have myofascial pain syndrome.
Other issues that electro dry needling can be used with include the following:
- Shoulder pain
- Neck pain
- Lower back pain
- Knee osteoarthritis
- Headaches and migraines
- Nerve compression
- Spinal issues
- Herniated or bulging discs
- Jaw and face pain
- Pelvic floor issues
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Dry needling with e-stim provides many benefits. The procedure itself is safe and minimally invasive. Dry needling with electrical stimulation can help the body release the trigger points, which may be sensitive areas causing pain. My patients also usually report that adding the e-stim is more comfortable during the procedure, and results in less soreness afterwards than traditional trigger point needling. Let's look at four benefits of dry needling with e-stim treatment.
Relieves Muscle Tension
Dry needling, in general, is a great way to reduce muscle tension and can improve muscle contractions. When the electrical stimulation is added to the needle, it causes a muscle twitch response. This contraction can help muscles that are causing problems to loosen up and relax.
Improves Flexibility and Range of Motion
Dry needling with electrical stimulation can help to improve flexibility and restore range of motion. Improving the range of motion can decrease the likelihood of patients developing a disability.
Improves Blood Flow
Dry needling alone is beneficial to increasing blood flow to the area. Dry needling is often inserted into trigger points — a tight group of muscle tissues that are injured or inflamed. Stimulating the trigger point area increases blood flow, and the muscles can get the oxygen needed to heal and function properly.
Physical therapy using dry needling with electrical stimulation can help reduce pain. Electrical stimulation can help muscles contract and relax, strengthening the area and increasing blood flow to the site, which helps reduce pain. The dry needling stimulator also elicits a response from the brain to release endorphins, which are one of the body's natural pain-killing chemicals. This pain reduction typically occurs quickly after the first treatment — my patients often describe a difference in as soon as 1-3 days. This quick progress has a huge impact on my clients’ motivation and mindset when they are first starting therapy.
A study involving athletes who had shoulder pain found that dry needling in the trapezius and other muscles decreased their pain intensity.
Most patients don't experience side effects from dry needling. However, there are a few side effects that can occur. Let's look at some of the side effects that can occur following a dry needling session.
People may experience some discomfort during a dry needling session or for a little while afterward. As is true for most physical therapy interventions, some discomfort during sessions is normal. My patients usually describe the sensation as a deep ache during the procedure, and as muscle soreness afterwards which lasts for a few hours up to 2 days. Patients may even experience muscle soreness after treatment, especially in sensitive areas.
Dry needling can cause bruising or swelling to occur at the injection sites. Patients prone to bruising or have certain health conditions may be more inclined to swelling or bruising after a dry needling treatment. However, swelling and bruising should go away on its own after a few days.
Any time a needle is injected into the skin, there is a risk of an infection. However, developing an infection from dry needling is a rare occurrence.
It is not uncommon for red spots or patches to occur on the skin where the needles are inserted. A skin reaction is your histamine response in the body to needles being injected into it. Typically, spots or patches of redness will go away within a couple of hours.
Dry needling with e-stim can be beneficial for people who suffer from many types of acute or chronic pain. Some common candidates for electric dry needling include people with:
- Lower and upper back pain
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Hip pain
- Knee pain
- Arm and wrist pain
- Foot and ankle pain
- Muscle soreness
- Face and jaw pain
Some people should avoid dry needling with electrical stimulation. For example, people who have electrical devices implanted into their bodies, like pacemakers, should not try electro needling. Other people who shouldn't try electro dry needling include people who:
- Have an aversion to needles
- Have metal allergies
- People with INR less than 2 or higher than 3
- Have immune system issues
- Are pregnant
- Have epilepsy
- Have heart conditions
- Have cancer
As you can see, dry needling with electrical stimulation is a physical therapy treatment that can help reduce pain and promote faster healing. While the thought of electricity flowing through your body may sound scary at first, dry needling involves using skinny needles, and you may feel instant relief that makes it all worthwhile.
So, if you're considering trying electrical dry needling, contact CityPT today to schedule an appointment and let one of our physical therapists help you determine if it's the right procedure for you.
Before you go, please read our disclaimer. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. We are not providing legal or medical advice and this blog does not create a provider-patient relationship. Do not rely on our blog (or any blog) for medical information. Always seek the help of a qualified medical professional who has assessed you and understands your condition.