Trigger point dry needling is generally considered a safe procedure when performed by a licensed healthcare provider with proper training in the technique. Like any medical procedure, however, there are some potential risks and side effects that patients should be aware of before undergoing dry needling treatment. Some of the more commonly reported risks and side effects associated with trigger point dry needling include the following:
Increased Pain – While the goal of dry needling is to reduce pain by deactivating trigger points, it is common for patients to feel a temporary increase in pain or soreness at the needling site during or immediately following a treatment session. This is a normal physiological response as the muscles relax and is not generally a cause for concern. The pain or soreness should subside over the next 24-48 hours as the muscles heal and relaxed further. In rare cases, some patients have reported pain persisting for longer than 2-3 days.
Bruising – It is not uncommon for patients to experience minor bruising at the needling site as dry needling involves the insertion of very thin filiform needles into tight muscle bands. Bruising results from small capillaries rupturing under the skin. Bruises are usually minor and resolve within a few days without complications. On rare occasions, patients with bleeding disorders or those taking blood-thinning medications have experienced more extensive bruising.
Bleeding – Minor bleeding can sometimes occur at the needling site if a small blood vessel is accidentally punctured. Any bleeding is usually minor and stops quickly on its own. The healthcare provider should apply pressure to stop any bleeding. Significant or prolonged bleeding requiring medical attention is very rare. As with bruising, those with bleeding disorders or on blood thinners are at higher risk.
Fainting – A small percentage of patients may feel faint, dizzy or lightheaded during or shortly after a dry needling treatment session. This usually results from sensation of needle insertion or change in body position rather than any medical issue. Ensure you are well hydrated before treatment and listen to your practitioner’s instructions to avoid moves that cause drops in blood pressure like suddenly standing up.
Nerve Injury – Very rarely, there is a small risk of accidentally puncturing or injuring nerves near the needling site. Nerves are usually well protected by muscles and fascia making direct trauma uncommon when treatment is performed properly. Minor nerve injuries like temporary numbness, tingling or pain usually resolve within days. Long-term or permanent nerve damage is exceptionally rare but possible if protocols are not followed.
Infection – Bacteria normally present on the skin can potentially cause infection if transferred too deeply by acupuncture needles. Infection after dry needling is considered very rare due to the use of only solid filiform needles which do not remain in the body long-term. Any post-treatment infection would normally manifest as local inflammation around a needling site and respond readily to oral antibiotics. More serious infections requiring hospitalization have not been reported.
Organ Puncture – While exceedingly unlikely when treatment is performed properly in appropriate muscle locations, there is a theoretical risk of inadvertently puncturing an underlying organ like the lungs (pneumothorax) or liver if protocols are breached. This requires advancement of the needle well beyond safe depths. No cases of organ puncture from properly administered trigger point dry needling have been documented.
Allergic Reaction – Allergies to needle metals like stainless steel are considered very rare. Mild allergic skin reactions like redness, itching or rash could potentially occur but would not usually cause health issues. Anyone knowing of metal allergies should notify their practitioner before treatment. Serious systemic allergic reactions or anaphylaxis have not been associated with dry needling.
As with all medical procedures, proper dry needling technique, practitioner competence, and adherence to established safety protocols are key to minimizing risks. Patients should feel comfortable discussing any medical history or concerns with their healthcare provider prior to treatment. Potential side effects are usually mild and short-lived when trigger point dry needling is administered appropriately. As a generally low-risk procedure, dry needling provides effective pain relief for many musculoskeletal issues when incorporated as part of a broader treatment plan including exercise, manual therapy, and lifestyle modification.
While trigger point dry needling is considered very safe when performed correctly by a licensed practitioner, patients should be aware of potential risks like possible increased pain, minor bruising or bleeding at needling sites, fainting, temporary nerve reactions, or very rare infection or organ puncture. Serious health issues are exceedingly uncommon and mild side effects are usually self-limiting if appropriate protocols are followed. The procedure provides significant musculoskeletal pain relief for many individuals when administered skillfully as part of comprehensive clinical care.