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The origin of the term “dry needling” is attributed to Janet G Travell. In her book, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: Trigger Point Manual. Travell uses the term “dry needling” to differentiate between two hypodermic needle techniques when performing trigger point therapy. However, Travell did not elaborate on the details on the techniques of dry needling. The two techniques Travell described are the injection of a local anesthetic and the mechanical use of a hypodermic needle without injecting a solution (Travell, Simons, & Simons, 1999, pp. 154–155). The current techniques of dry needling were based on the traditional and western medical acupuncture. Although dry needling originally utilized only hypodermic needles due to the concern that solid needles had neither the strength nor tactile feedback that hypodermic needles provided and that the needle could be bent /broken by “dense contraction knots”, those concerns have proven unfounded and many therapists who perform dry needling, have found that the acupuncture needles not only provide better tactile feedback, but also penetrate the “dense muscle knots” better and are easier to manage and caused less discomfort to patients. For that reason, both the use of hypodermic needles and the use of acupuncture needles are now accepted in dry needling practice.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT) states:
Dry needling is a neurophysiological evidence-based treatment technique that requires effective manual assessment of the neuromuscular system. Physical therapists are well trained to utilize dry needling in conjunction with manual physical therapy interventions. Research supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, normalizes biochemical and electrical dysfunction of motor end plates, and facilitates an accelerated return to active rehabilitation.
Dry needling for the treatment of myofascial (muscular) trigger points is based on theories similar, but not exclusive, to traditional acupuncture; both acupuncture and dry needling target the trigger points, which is a direct and palpable source of patient pain. However, dry needling theory is only beginning to describe the complex sensation referral patterns that have been documented as “channels” or “meridians” in Chinese Medicine. What further distinguishes dry needling from traditional acupuncture is that it does not use the full range of traditional theories of Chinese Medicine which is used to treat not only pain but other non-musculoskeletal issues which often are the cause of pain. The distinction between trigger points and acupuncture points for the relief of pain is blurred. As reported by Melzack, et al., there is a high degree of correspondence (71% based on their analysis) between published locations of trigger points and classical acupuncture points for the relief of pain.