Dry needling is similar to acupuncture and may offer some relief from rheumatoid arthritis. However, there’s limited evidence to support the benefits of this therapy.

Dry needling is a therapy that uses needles to stimulate certain points in the body. The treatment is aimed at targeting physical areas of tension or pain rather than manipulating the body’s natural energy.

People with rheumatoid arthritis who experience chronic pain and inflammation often turn to alternative and complementary therapies for relief alongside other medications and treatments.

This article explores why people with rheumatoid arthritis might consider dry needling, who it can help the most, and what to watch for if you decide to try this type of therapy.

Dry needling is a type of therapy that uses small needles to stimulate nerve endings — or trigger points — in your muscles. Other names for this therapy are intramuscular manual therapy or trigger point dry needling.

Hollow needles are placed into trigger points, sometimes referred to as knots in your muscle. The insertion of the needle stimulates nerve endings, causing your muscle to contract and then relax.

The goal of this therapy is to loosen the tight bands of muscle that create trigger points or knots, improve your flexibility and performance, and relieve pain or tightness.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes swelling, stiffness, and sometimes loss of movement in your joints. This chronic disorder can lead to pain that can make doing even simple tasks such as bending your knees or buttoning a shirt difficult.

Although rheumatoid arthritis ultimately causes chronic joint inflammation, people with this condition may also develop muscle weakness or pain and be more sensitive to pressure-related pain.

There are multiple treatments and therapies used to try and help treat and manage the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, including different types of physical and complementary therapies.

The goal of physical therapy in people with rheumatoid arthritis is to increase movement and flexibility in inflamed joints. Similarly, complementary therapies such as dry needling or even acupuncture have been used for pain relief and to reduce inflammation in people with arthritic joints.

Evidence to support true pain relief or a decrease in inflammation is limited, but complementary therapies such as dry needling may be seen as beneficial even with limited evidence of success — as long as there is no harm done.

Dry needling vs. acupuncture: Which is better for arthritis?

Dry needling and acupuncture are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably.

Acupuncture is a general category of complementary medicine that uses small needles to stimulate different strategic points in the body. These points are targeted to treat direct or referred pain and health issues.

There are several forms of acupuncture, and they vary based on the type of needle that is used, what — if anything — is instilled through the needle, and how and where needles are placed.

There is little evidence to support dry needling as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis specifically. However, dry needling and other forms of acupuncture are associated with pain relief in a number of conditions, with particular benefit found in several studies among people with knee osteoarthritis.

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There isn’t much research to support dry needling as an evidence-based medical treatment. However, forms of this therapy have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and proponents make a strong case for its help in relieving musculoskeletal pain.

The lack of evidence on the safety and effectiveness of therapies such as dry needling has prompted some states to ban them and others to limit dry needling to certain licensed therapists.

People who report benefits from dry needling usually do it along with other treatments such as medications and traditional physical therapy.

Dry needling is done with small needles placed into the skin at particular points. These points usually coordinate with areas of pain or muscle tightness. This differs from other forms of traditional acupuncture, which focus on manipulating body energy or Qi.

Needles can be placed superficially or more deeply into your muscles and left in place for up to 30 minutes in some cases. There really is no set standard for dry needling therapy. How your therapy is performed can vary from one therapist to another.

Dry needling is not allowed in every state because there is little scientific evidence to support it as a safe or effective treatment. This lack of evidence also makes it difficult to train and license therapists to perform the procedure.

Be sure to ask about the experience and credentials of the person performing your dry needling if you choose to try this therapy, and be aware of the potential risks, including:

  • bleeding
  • bruising
  • pain
  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • numbness

Dry needling is a type of alternative medicine that uses tiny needles to stimulate nerve endings. The goal of it is to promote muscle relaxation and pain relief. There’s little evidence on the benefits and risks of this therapy.

The lack of research on dry needling means there is little formal or clinical guidance to guide therapists who offer this treatment.

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain and inflammation in the joints. Anecdotal reports suggest that dry needling can help improve different types of pain. However, in most reports, people used it alongside other treatments and therapies, such as exercise and anti-inflammatory medications.

Talk with your rheumatologist or other healthcare professional about dry needling and other complementary therapies. While they may offer you some benefits, they also come with risks and may not be sufficient to replace other treatments.