Dry Needling Side Effects: What Should You Be Aware Of?

Dry needling therapy has become increasingly popular for treating various musculoskeletal issues, such as chronic pain, sports injuries, and muscle tension. This technique involves inserting thin needles into specific trigger points in the muscles to release tension and alleviate pain.

While many people experience significant relief from dry needling, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects. Understanding these dry needling side effects can help you make an informed decision about whether this therapy is right for you.

Common Side Effects of Dry Needling

  • Soreness and Discomfort

One of the most common side effects of dry needling is soreness at the needle insertion site. This discomfort is generally mild and temporary, typically lasting for 24 to 48 hours. The soreness occurs because the needle creates a minor injury in the muscle, prompting the body to initiate a healing response. This response involves increased blood flow and the release of healing substances to the affected area, which can lead to temporary inflammation and soreness.

To alleviate soreness, you can apply ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes every few hours during the first day after treatment. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can also help reduce discomfort. Additionally, gentle stretching and light physical activity can promote blood flow and help dissipate muscle soreness more quickly. Staying hydrated is also important, as it aids in muscle recovery and reduces overall discomfort.

  • Bruising

Bruising is another frequent side effect of dry needling. When the needle punctures small blood vessels under the skin, it can cause a bruise. The size and severity of the bruise can vary depending on individual factors, such as skin sensitivity, the depth of the needle insertion, and the location of the needle insertion. For example, areas with thinner skin or higher vascularity, like the forearms or thighs, may bruise more easily.

While bruising is usually harmless, it can be unsightly and uncomfortable. To reduce the risk of bruising, ensure that your practitioner uses proper technique and follows safety protocols, such as avoiding blood vessels and using sterile, single-use needles. After your session, applying ice to the treated area can help minimize bruising. If a bruise does develop, it should resolve on its own within a few days to a week. Keeping the area elevated and avoiding strenuous activity can also help reduce the appearance and discomfort of bruising.

  • Fatigue

Some patients report feeling fatigued or experiencing a sense of heaviness after a dry needling session. This reaction is likely due to the body’s response to the release of muscle tension and the activation of the healing process. The body’s efforts to repair and regenerate tissue can lead to a temporary state of fatigue, similar to the feeling after a vigorous workout.

Rest and hydration can help mitigate this side effect. It’s important to listen to your body and allow yourself time to rest if you feel fatigued. Light activities such as walking or gentle stretching can aid in maintaining circulation and energy levels without overexerting yourself. Most people find that the fatigue resolves within a day or two, leaving them feeling more energized and less burdened by muscle tension.

  • Muscle Twitching

During a dry needling session, you might experience involuntary muscle twitching or a local twitch response (LTR). This twitching is a normal and often beneficial reaction, indicating that the needle has successfully targeted a trigger point.

Trigger points are hyperirritable spots in the muscle that can cause pain and discomfort. The twitch response is a sign that the muscle is releasing tension and undergoing a reset, which can lead to pain relief and improved function.

However, the sensation can be startling or uncomfortable for some individuals. It’s important to communicate with your practitioner about your comfort level and any sensations you experience during the treatment.

They can adjust the needle placement or technique to make the procedure more comfortable for you. The muscle twitching typically subsides quickly after the needle is removed, and any residual soreness can be managed with the same strategies used for general post-treatment soreness.

  • Redness and Swelling

In some cases, patients may notice redness and mild swelling around the needle insertion sites. This is a common inflammatory response as the body works to heal the micro-injuries caused by the needles. The redness and swelling are usually mild and temporary, resolving within a few hours to a couple of days.

To manage redness and swelling, you can apply a cool compress to the affected area. Avoiding hot showers or baths immediately after treatment can also help prevent exacerbating the inflammation. If the redness and swelling persist or worsen, it’s important to contact your practitioner for further advice.

  • Temporary Increase in Pain

Occasionally, patients may experience a temporary increase in pain following a dry needling session. This is often due to the body’s natural healing response and the release of tight muscle knots. While this increase in pain can be uncomfortable, it is usually a sign that the treatment is working to address the underlying issues.

To manage this temporary increase in pain, you can use the same strategies for soreness, such as ice application, over-the-counter pain relievers, and gentle stretching. Most patients find that the increased pain diminishes within a day or two, followed by a significant reduction in overall pain levels.

  • Emotional Release

Some patients report experiencing an emotional release during or after a dry needling session. This can manifest as feelings of relaxation, euphoria, or even the release of suppressed emotions. This response is believed to be linked to the relief of muscle tension and the improvement of blood flow, which can positively affect the nervous system and overall well-being.

If you experience an emotional release, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time to process them. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help you manage any strong emotions that arise. Discussing your experience with your practitioner can also provide additional support and understanding.

Less Common Side Effects of Dry Needling

  • Nerve Irritation

In rare cases, dry needling can cause irritation or injury to nearby nerves. This can result in symptoms such as tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation around the needle insertion site. These sensations occur because the needle may come into close contact with a nerve, causing temporary disruption. While these symptoms are usually temporary and resolve on their own, they can be uncomfortable and concerning.

If you experience any nerve-related issues during or after your dry needling session, it’s crucial to inform your practitioner immediately. They can assess the situation and adjust their technique or needle placement to avoid further irritation. Practitioners are trained to recognize anatomical landmarks and nerve pathways to minimize the risk of nerve irritation. Additionally, communicating openly with your practitioner about any unusual sensations can help them make necessary adjustments to ensure your comfort and safety.

  • Infection

Although infection is a rare side effect of dry needling, it can occur if proper hygiene practices are not followed. The risk of infection is minimized when the practitioner uses sterile needles and thoroughly cleans the insertion site before the procedure. Despite these precautions, there is always a small risk of introducing bacteria into the skin, which can lead to infection.

Signs of infection include redness, swelling, warmth, and discharge at the needle site. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly. Early intervention can prevent the infection from spreading and becoming more serious. To further reduce the risk of infection, ensure that your practitioner follows strict hygiene protocols, including hand washing, wearing gloves, and using single-use, sterile needles.

  • Pneumothorax

Pneumothorax, or a collapsed lung, is an extremely rare but serious side effect of dry needling. This condition can occur if a needle is inadvertently inserted too deeply into the chest area, puncturing the lung. Pneumothorax is more likely to occur when dry needling is performed on the upper back or shoulder areas, where the lung tissue is closer to the surface.

Symptoms of pneumothorax include sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. If you experience these symptoms after a dry needling session, seek emergency medical care immediately. Pneumothorax requires prompt treatment to re-expand the collapsed lung and restore normal breathing.

To prevent pneumothorax, practitioners must have a thorough understanding of the anatomy and be trained in safe needling techniques. Proper training includes learning to avoid areas where the lung is at risk and using appropriate needle depth and angle. Patients can also help reduce the risk by informing their practitioner about any previous chest surgeries or lung conditions that may affect the safety of needling in these areas.

  • Fainting or Vasovagal Response

In some rare instances, patients may experience fainting or a vasovagal response during or after a dry needling session. This reaction occurs when the body overreacts to certain triggers, such as pain or anxiety, leading to a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure. Symptoms of a vasovagal response include lightheadedness, dizziness, sweating, and fainting.

If you feel faint or dizzy during your session, inform your practitioner immediately. They can help you lie down and elevate your legs to improve blood flow to the brain. Staying well-hydrated and eating a light meal before your session can also help prevent fainting. If you have a history of vasovagal responses, be sure to discuss this with your practitioner before starting dry needling therapy.

  • Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to dry needling are extremely rare but can occur. These reactions might be related to the materials used in the needles or to substances applied to the skin before or after needling. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include localized itching, swelling, rash, or more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing.

If you have known allergies to metals or other materials, inform your practitioner so they can use appropriate equipment and skin preparations. If you experience signs of an allergic reaction during or after your session, seek medical attention promptly. Most allergic reactions can be managed effectively with appropriate medical care, but it is important to address them quickly to avoid more serious complications.

  • Scarring

While dry needling typically does not cause scarring, there is a small risk, especially if the treatment area is not properly cared for after the session. Repeated needling in the same area can increase the risk of scar tissue formation. Ensuring that the treated area is kept clean and avoiding excessive friction or pressure can help prevent scarring.

  • Increased Pain

In some cases, patients may experience an increase in pain after a dry needling session. This can occur due to the body’s healing response, where the minor injury caused by the needle leads to temporary inflammation and increased sensitivity. While this increased pain is generally temporary, lasting for a few days, it can be distressing.

Managing increased pain involves following post-treatment care recommendations, such as applying ice, taking over-the-counter pain relievers, and avoiding strenuous activities. If the pain persists or worsens, it’s important to consult with your practitioner to determine the best course of action.

  • Vascular Injury

Although rare, vascular injury is a potential side effect of dry needling, particularly in areas with a high concentration of blood vessels. If a needle punctures a larger blood vessel, it can lead to significant bruising, hematoma (a collection of blood outside the vessels), or other vascular complications.

To minimize the risk of vascular injury, practitioners must have a thorough understanding of the vascular anatomy and use precise techniques. If you have any concerns about the areas being treated or a history of vascular issues, discuss these with your practitioner before starting dry needling therapy.

Managing Side Effects of Dry Needling

  • Communication with Your Practitioner

Effective communication with your practitioner is crucial for minimizing and managing the side effects of dry needling. Before your session, discuss your medical history, current medications, and any concerns you may have.

During the procedure, provide feedback about your comfort level and any sensations you experience. This dialogue can help your practitioner tailor the treatment to your needs and reduce the risk of adverse reactions.

  • Post-Treatment Care

Proper post-treatment care can also help mitigate the side effects of dry needling. After your session, follow any instructions provided by your practitioner, such as applying ice to sore areas, staying hydrated, and avoiding strenuous activities for a day or two. Gentle stretching and light exercise can promote muscle recovery and enhance the benefits of the therapy.

Trust the Experts for Your Dry Needling Therapy

Messina Acupuncture PC prioritizes your safety and comfort during dry needling therapy. Our highly skilled dry needling practitioners use precise techniques to minimize side effects and maximize benefits.

Whether you’re dealing with soreness, nerve irritation, or simply seeking pain relief, our individualized treatment plans are tailored to meet your needs. Trust us to provide expert care with a focus on hygiene and patient well-being.