Trigger Point Dry Needling: It’s Not Acupuncture


Do you ever find yourself constantly rubbing that sore spot on your neck, or in the middle of your back? Do you wonder why it never goes away? Well, those sore spots – or knots, as they’re commonly known – are actually trigger points. A trigger point is a tight band of muscle that is in a shortened, contracted state and cannot release. It is tender to the touch, and it can sometimes refer pain to a different area of the body. Trigger points are thought to develop due to trauma, increased demand on the muscles, or prolonged periods of muscle contraction, such as while sitting or standing for hours at work. Other influential factors that contribute to the development of a trigger point, which we all experience, are stress and illness. Trigger points can contribute to decreased functional range of motion in a joint or even lead to tendonitis in a muscle.

Trigger point dry needling (TDN) is a manual therapy technique performed by trained physical therapists that uses an acupuncture needle to help release trigger points throughout your body to help reduce pain and improve function. Does that mean physical therapists are practicing acupuncture? The answer is no. Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, and its purpose is to help balance energy flow through the body to help with pain reduction. The intent of trigger point dry needling, on the other hand, is to “improve muscle function, induce relaxation, and decrease pain,” according to APTA President Scott Ward (2009). Both practices use acupuncture needles, but to different effects.

TDN has made a positive impact on recovery time for patients by reducing the number of visits they need before seeing positive results. In fact, dramatic changes in range of motion, pain, and sensation of muscular tightness can be noticed immediately after treatment by retesting painful and/or dysfunctional movement. Other non-invasive manual techniques such as massage, myofascial release, or trigger point release (which PTs also use) can help to reduce trigger points, however trigger point dry needling has a much more direct effect and makes physical changes to the muscle. The needle provides a stimulus to the trigger point, causing it to contract then relax, thereby restoring the muscle to its normal length. The treated muscle is now able to function through its normal range of motion.

There are a variety of conditions that TDN can help with. Some of these include headaches, neck, back, shoulder, hip, and knee pain, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, tennis elbow, and many more. If you think trigger point dry needling is something that could help you, please contact our Scottsdale physical therapy clinic with any questions!

Foothills Sports Medicine provides hands-on, high quality therapy services to patients experiencing all different types of conditions. Our expert staff offers a free evaluation of your physical therapy needs, which can be scheduled online here. For more information and advice about trigger point dry needling, check out our blog.


Jennifer Rivera

DPT | Old Town Scottsdale Location