What Are the Risks and Adverse Effects from Dry Needling?Dry needling is a therapeutic option for pain relief that some physical therapists, chiropractors, and sports medicine doctors use to treat pain and increase range of motion in injured patients. However, when this therapy is performed improperly or in an unsterile manner, there are potential risks and side effects that can be serious and cause life-threatening harm.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a physical therapy technique that targets myofascial trigger points to relieve pain and improve range of motion. The practice of trigger point dry needling should be based on a thorough understanding of the scientific background of trigger points according to a study published in the Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy. Dry needling uses thin, solid filament needles inserted into the skin and into the muscle to trigger a twitch reflex to relieve tension in the muscle, improve flexibility, and relieve pain.

Dry needling sounds like acupuncture. Are they the same?

The dry needling technique follows Western medical principles and approaches, so it is not acupuncture, which is an ancient practice based on Traditional Chinese Medicine that is thousands of years old. The similarity between the two practices is that both use very thin, solid filament needles. Each practice has a distinct methodology and approach.

What are the risks of complications, adverse events, and injury associated with dry needling?

A health care organization study comparing dry needling research studies found the following types of adverse events associated with dry needling and classified them as to their severity:

Minor adverse effects

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Pain during or following treatment
  • Aggravation of symptoms followed by improvement
  • Feeling relaxed or energized
  • Feeling tired/drowsy
  • Feeling faint
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating

Significant adverse events

  • Prolonged pain at site
  • Extensive bruising
  • Profuse sweating
  • Severe nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Headaches
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe emotional reaction
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Skin irritation
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizure

Serious events

  • Pneumothorax
  • Puncture of other vital tissue or organ
  • Systemic infection

Most health insurers do not pay for dry needling, and a story in USA Today reports that there are seven states where physical therapy associations do not allow dry needling.

Injuries and infections can occur when practitioners do not use sterile needles and gloves, and when the therapist is not adequately trained or is inexperienced. In some states, a physical therapist can do dry needling on clients after a 24 or 46-hour training program, and not all of that training time is hands-on training.

If you have suffered a serious injury whether from dry needling treatment or any other type of medical procedure, a South Carolina medical malpractice attorney from the injury law firm of McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC is ready to fight for you. Contact us or call us today at 888.302.7546 for a free case review. Let us level the playing field on your behalf.