Dry needling- Why more professional athletes are seeking it out

Dry Needling Defined

Dry Needling uses thin filament needles (like those used for acupuncture) to stimulate the healing of injured or dysfunctional soft tissues through the activation of the body’s major healing systems:

  1. Immune
  2. Nervous
  3. Circulatory
  4. Endocrine

When a needle punctures the body it creates a tiny lesion known as “the current of injury”. This stimulates a local twitch response and resets  the tone in the tissue being stimulated. In addition, the stimulation leads to the production of growth factors that promote healing to the area locally, and promote endorphin releases globally. This helps balance the autonomic, or stress response, that often accompanies pain and injuries.

In essence, dry needling restores normal physiology and is effective for pain control, reducing muscle tension, normalizing biochemical and nerve dysfunction, and facilitating an accelerated return to activity.

Trigger points and dry needling

The focus of dry needling is often trigger points, hyper-irritable points in skeletal muscle that are characterized by a hypersensitive nodule, or “knot”. These can be painful at the site and radiate in predictable patterns, commonly referred to as referred pain patterns (RPP).

Each muscle has a characteristic RPP, which can be useful in helping to identify the involved muscle(s).

Trigger points can be in over-active (shortened) muscles as well as under-active (lengthened) muscles. This combination of over- and under-active muscles often occurs on either side of a joint and can disrupt normal joint biomechanics.

By deactivating the trigger points in muscles on both sides of a joint, dry needling can:

1. Restore joint range of motion

2. Restore muscle strength

3. Improve joint function (especially when combined with manipulation of the involved joint)

In the case of an athlete, by restoring these kinetic chain imbalances, they will have optimum flexibility, strength, speed, agility, quickness and power.

What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?

Unlike acupuncture, the objectives, assessment, application and philosophy behind the use of dry needling is not based on the theories or tenets of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but on neuroanatomy, physiology and biochemistry. Dry needling can be quantified through modern technology, using blood tests and functional MRIs.

What conditions respond to dry needling?

A variety of musculoskeletal problems including, but not limited to: acute/chronic injuries, headaches, neck/back pain, tendinitis, muscle spasms, sciatica, hip and knee pain, muscle strains, fibromyalgia, tennis and golfer’s elbow, overuse injuries and plantar fasciitis.

Are there side effects of dry needling?

Side effects vary among individuals, but are typically limited to mild muscle soreness or bruising.


Dry Needling in the news and research: 

Professional Football

Treatment of Hamstring Strain in A Collegiate Pole-vaulter


Posterior knee pain in an adolescent ballet dancer


Management of shoulder injuries using dry needling in elite volleyball players.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin