Pediatric Dry Needling

Children's Health℠ is one of very few hospitals in the country offering dry needling to children. The physical therapists and physicians that perform dry needling at Children’s Health have completed special training in the treatment. They will work with your child to perform the procedure along with physical therapy exercises to retrain the muscle to work correctly without developing pain or muscle tightness.

Our team will communicate with your child at every step of the process, and even help distract them during the session. We do our best to help them feel as comfortable as possible during the treatment.

We will also watch to see how your child's muscles respond to each needle as we move through the procedure. This helps guide our practice. In some cases, families can not just observe the difference in their child’s mobility and pain, but even see the difference between how the muscle looked before and after treatment, too!

What is Pediatric Dry Needling?

Dry needling is one of the many tools our highly trained physical therapy team uses to help your child’s muscles perform at their best. It can help relieve trigger points (knots) in athletic and active children. Repeated motion or mild trauma (from getting hit in sports like hockey or football) can cause your child’s muscles to develop knots, which feel tense and painful, and can feel like little bulbs underneath your child’s skin.

Dry needling not only treats trigger points but can also address children with diagnosis such as nerve pain and headaches. It helps treat muscles in children who have had a brain injury, stroke, or spinal injury that is causing their brain to tell their muscles to be more tense than they need to be. It can also relieve pain in children with chronic headaches and concussions.

How does dry needling work?

Dry needling involves inserting small needles into your child’s muscles to relieve tension and pain. The puncture the needle makes in the muscle during dry needling helps relieve pressure in the area and increase blood flow to the muscle to promote healing.

Sometimes, we also perform dry needling with electrical stimulation, where we add e-stimulation to the needles. This makes the muscles contract or move slightly, which enhances the blood flow and healing even more.

People often mix up dry needling with acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of Eastern medicine where the acupuncturist inserts the needle into specific points on the body points to target energy flow within the body to help improve internal problems, such as digestion. Dry needling is a Western approach that uses the same type of needles. The difference is that dry needling involves inserting needles directly into the painful areas associated with muscles or nerves to help heal them.

What are the benefits of Pediatric Dry Needling?

Dry needling helps relax muscles very quickly. Deep tissue massage can help remove knots and muscle tensions, too. So can certain medications. However, those things take a lot longer to work a knot out of a muscle. Dry needling can release the tension almost instantly. Providers can also get a lot more specific with a needle than a massage therapist can with their thumb.

Many children see improvement very quickly. In some cases, they can feel a difference as soon as the needles are removed.

What are the side effects of Pediatric Dry Needling?

Temporary muscle soreness is a main side effect of dry needling. Our goal is always to put the least amount of needles in that patient as possible while still getting the job done. This helps us minimize soreness and any anxiety your child may have about the procedure. As we get to know your child, we may gradually introduce more needles and e-stimulation over time. But we will always work within your child’s individual needs and pain tolerance as we go along.

Sometimes, we also see small blood droplets emerge from where the needle was inserted. This is completely normal, especially for muscles that are particularly tight. It is actually an indication that the process is working as intended—it is bringing blood to the area to help jumpstart the healing process.

What are the risks of Pediatric Dry Needling?

There is always a very low risk of infection at the point of injection since we are breaking the skin. But this is very rare and manageable.

Dry needling is not for every child. The treatment can stress some children out. As a result, they struggle to relax which means their muscles are less likely to respond well to the treatment. We usually treat older children (around 13 years old and up), but we are also skilled at helping younger children through the procedure. And, for those who simply cannot tolerate dry needling, we have plenty of other treatment options available.

What to expect with Pediatric Dry Needling

Dry needling can take anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. We welcome parents to be present during your child’s session. Your child may also have more than one muscle group treated with dry needling. If this is the case, they will get to take a break in between sessions (for at least 24 hours) to regroup physically before going again.

What to expect before Pediatric Dry Needling

Your child will never have dry needling therapy as their only treatment, so before the session they may have other physical therapy. You and your family are also welcome to be with your child throughout the procedure. Once they are preparing for the dry needling session, your child’s care team will talk you and your family through what is going to happen.

Your child will have a chance to see the needles and talk through the process of the procedure before beginning. They will also let your child know that your child will be in control of how long the needle will be in their skin, so the process stops when your child says so.

What to expect during Pediatric Dry Needling

During the session, your child’s provider will keep a conversation going with your child, unless they prefer to use their phone, book, or tablet for a distraction. Our providers will disinfect the skin, apply a topical anesthetic to help dull the feeling of the needle going into the skin, and insert the needle into the muscle.

They will repeat this process as many times as is necessary to treat the targeted muscle, and as many times as your child can tolerate.

What to expect after Pediatric Dry Needling

Afterward, your child can return to their regular routine. It is important to follow up dry needling with exercise. Dry needling is the kickstart to the healing process, but to maintain improvements, your child will need to continue moving around and building muscle and stamina.

How do I prepare my child for Pediatric Dry Needling?

You should tell your child to bring their favorite blanket, toy or device to the clinic to use for comfort during the session. It is important that they stay relaxed during the treatment. It is also important that you help us set your child’s expectations for the procedure.

You may be tempted to soothe your child’s nerves by telling them the treatment will not hurt. However, the treatment may be painful for some children, so it’s best to help set their expectations and make a plan to get them through the process as smoothly as possible. You can help calm your child’s nerves by reminding them the needles are 1/10th the size of a flu shot, which means they are very tiny.

Your child will also have a say in how long we have a needle in their body before we take it out. And, if a needle’s placement hurts too much, our experts will work to remove the needle and place it somewhere else to target the tense muscle without causing as much pain. Ensure your child that they will have an active role to play in the process. It is, after all, their body! They will be in communication with providers throughout the process.

What is my child allowed to eat and drink before Pediatric Dry Needling?

Your child can eat and drink as they normally would before a dry needling session.

What are the Child Life services for Pediatric Dry Needling?

Child Life services are available to children getting dry needling at our integrated therapy unit. Otherwise, if your child is getting dry needling at a different location, our expert providers will work with your child’s caregiver/family to develop a distraction plan to help with the procedure.

What questions should I ask my provider about Pediatric Dry Needling?

Examples include:

  • How will dry needling help my child compared to other approaches, like medications and exercise?
  • I have had dry needling before. Will it be the same for my child as it was for me? Or is it different for kids?
  • How much dry needling have you performed?
  • Will my child need to spend the night at the hospital after dry needling?
  • What medications should my child stop taking before dry needling, if any?
  • Will my child go home with any special equipment after dry needling?
  • Can we work together on keeping my child relaxed and comfortable during their dry needling treatment? What kinds of things am I allowed to bring to help with this?

Pediatric Dry Needling Doctors and Providers

Our dry needling specialists see hundreds of children each year for this treatment. They are skilled at strategically performing dry needling and maximizing its benefits. Schedule your child’s appointment with our team today.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many sessions will it take before my child starts to feel better and no longer needs dry needling?

    This varies from child to child, but our team will usually start with 3-5 sessions to feel out the dosing and placement to see what works best for your child.

  • Can dry needling be repeated?

    Our providers typically give the children we treat a 24-hour window to see how well it is working before we repeat it, as needed.

  • If it’s not working, what are our options?

    We usually start with various stretching, strengthening, massage and mobilization techniques before relying on dry needling. However, we also have other injections available to treat muscle spasms, tension and pain. We can also offer your child kinesio tape, cupping, surface level e-stimulation and trigger point massage.

  • Does dry needling hurt?

    The lasting effects of dry needling help reduce pain. But the procedure itself can be uncomfortable and your child may feel sore afterward. However, our experts are skilled at helping children manage and navigate any pain. We also won’t perform the procedure on any child who cannot tolerate it.

  • How often should my child get dry needling?

    This varies from child to child. Usually, we start by prescribing at least one a week for 3-5 weeks. Then, we will decrease your child’s treatment as needed, and will discontinue sessions if we do not feel the therapy is helping.

  • How long does it take for dry needling to work?

    Your child may very well see an immediate difference after treatment. But don’t feel discouraged if your child does not feel an improvement right away. Each child’s body responds a little differently to the treatment. Some children will find that they can do more of an activity without experiencing pain or discomfort than before treatment, rather than seeing an immediate effect.

  • How long do effects of dry needling last?

    Hopefully, your child’s dry needling effects will last without the need to repeat the procedure. If your child continues to work on their exercises and other therapies, they increase the likelihood of having a lasting effect from dry needling. In some cases, children begin experiencing pain or discomfort months or years after treatment and have to return for more treatment.

  • Can dry needling make my child sick?

    No, dry needling cannot make your child sick. Sometimes, the procedure can make a child anxious or nervous, which can make them light-headed, dizzy, or nauseous.