What Happens When Dry Needling Hits a Nerve: Physical Therapy Practice

What Happens When Dry Needling Hits a Nerve

In recent years, dry needling has gained popularity as a complementary therapy in physical rehabilitation. This technique involves the insertion of thin needles into specific trigger points in muscles, aiming to alleviate pain and improve mobility. However, like any medical procedure, there are potential risks associated with dry needling, especially when it comes to hitting a nerve. In this article, we will explore what happens when dry needling hits a nerve in the context of physical therapy practice.

Understanding Dry Needling

Dry needling, unlike acupuncture, focuses on releasing muscle knots or trigger points. Trained physical therapists use thin, solid needles to penetrate these points, promoting relaxation and blood flow. While the practice has shown positive outcomes for many patients, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential complications, especially when it comes to nerve involvement.

What Happens When Dry Needling Hits a Nerve?

When dry needling hits a nerve, it can lead to various consequences, ranging from mild discomfort to more severe complications. The proximity of nerves to targeted trigger points increases the risk of accidental nerve stimulation during the procedure. Possible outcomes include:

  • Temporary Discomfort

In some cases, hitting a nerve may cause temporary discomfort or pain at the needle insertion site. Patients might experience tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation. However, these symptoms often resolve on their own over time.

  • Muscle Twitching

Nerve stimulation can induce muscle twitching, which may be startling but is generally harmless. Physical therapists are trained to manage these reactions and ensure patient comfort during and after the procedure.

  • Bruising and Swelling

Accidental nerve hits can result in localized bruising and swelling. This is usually a minor side effect and tends to subside within a few days. Applying ice and gentle massage can help alleviate these symptoms.

  • Rare Complications

Although rare, more severe complications such as nerve damage or infection may occur. It is essential for physical therapists to be vigilant, follow proper sterilization procedures, and address any unusual symptoms promptly.

Preventive Measures and Professional Competence

To minimize the risk of nerve-related complications during dry needling, physical therapists undergo rigorous training and education. They learn precise techniques for needle insertion, gaining a deep understanding of anatomy to avoid sensitive areas. Additionally, therapists carefully assess each patient’s medical history and current health status before recommending dry needling.

Patients are encouraged to communicate openly with their therapists, informing them of any unusual sensations during the procedure. This ensures timely adjustments and minimizes the risk of adverse events.

  • Select a well-trained professional

Always make sure that the person performing the procedure has the right training and experience. They should know a lot about how our bodies work and be skilled in the dry needling technique.

  • Talk openly

Tell your practitioner about any health conditions, medicines you’re taking, or if you’ve had dry needling before. This helps them avoid problems during the procedure.

  • Let them know about your feelings

If you feel a lot of pain or something strange during the procedure, don’t hesitate to tell your practitioner right away. This helps them make changes to what they’re doing or solve any issues.

  • Follow the care instructions

After the procedure, do what your practitioner tells you to do. This might include putting ice on the area, doing gentle stretches, or avoiding tough activities for a little while.

  • Watch out for problems

Most people only have small and temporary issues after dry needling. But if you have strong or lasting pain, numbness, or other weird feelings, contact your practitioner or another healthcare provider as soon as possible.


Dry needling can be an effective tool in the arsenal of physical therapy, offering relief to individuals suffering from musculoskeletal issues. However, understanding the potential consequences of nerve interaction is vital for both therapists and patients. By adhering to stringent safety protocols, continuous education, and open communication, physical therapists can harness the benefits of dry needling while minimizing the risks associated with nerve involvement. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the suitability of dry needling for your specific condition and ensure a safe and effective rehabilitation process.

Written by Amy Fischer

Amy, a registered dietitian at the Good Housekeeping Institute's Nutrition Lab, brings a wealth of expertise to nutrition, health content, and product testing. With a journalism degree from Miami University of Ohio and a master's in clinical nutrition from NYU, she's a versatile expert. Prior to joining Good Housekeeping, Amy worked as a cardiac transplant dietitian at a prominent NYC hospital and contributed to clinical nutrition textbooks. Her background also includes PR and marketing work with food startups.

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