Is Dry Needling The Same As Acupuncture? Can It Get Rid Of My Pain?

Written by:
Dr. Kelsy Rayl
March 31, 2022

You may have heard friends or family talk about being “needled” as a part of their physical therapy regimen. Some of them may have even described it as a magical cure for getting rid of pain! But what exactly is dry needling? Is it like acupuncture? And could it be helpful for you? Keep reading to learn more!


What Is Dry Needling?

Trigger Point Dry Needling (TPND) is a specialized treatment technique that uses a thin, solid, monofilament needle inserted into the muscle. It is considered “dry” as no medication or fluid gets injected. In a typical TPDN session, muscles are palpated by the licensed practitioner in search of any trigger points or tight bands of tissue (aka “knots”). A trigger point is a sign of muscle dysfunction. It can cause pain and interfere with how the muscle fires. This results in poor motor control and abnormal movement patterns.


Once a trigger point is located, the needle is inserted into the middle of that spot. The stimulus of the needle starts a physiological cascade of events which results in decreased pain and muscle tension. Depending on the person and muscle being needled, TPDN can vary in the way it feels. Common sensations include: deep pressure or ache, a jolting sensation, or a quick muscle twitch.


TPDN allows therapists to address deeper tissues and chronic muscle dysfunction in a quicker and more effective way than traditional manual techniques. Depending on the location of your pain, duration of your symptoms, and specific muscles involved, it can take as little as one visit to resolve your symptoms!


How is it different from acupuncture?

While both TPDN and acupuncture use the same, small, monofilament needle that is inserted into the skin - the similarities stop there. 


Trigger Point Dry Needling (TPDN) is a Western-based approach which targets tissue restrictions to improve mobility and reduce pain. In TPDN, needles are inserted directly into dysfunctional tissues to mechanically "break down" any restrictions. The stimulus from the needle resets the resting muscle tone to a more relaxed state. In combination with gentle mobility and strengthening exercises, TPDN can expedite your recovery process! 


Meanwhile, acupuncture is an Eastern-based approach which addresses energy patterns along the body’s meridians. With years of training, acupuncturists become experts in pain patterns, meridian patterns, and other various techniques. Acupuncture is frequently used to address pain, fertility, and stress in Western countries despite its Eastern origins.


Can Dry Needling Help You?

Dry needling can treat a wide array of aches and pains. TPDN is commonly used to address: 

- Concussion and whiplash

- Headaches and neck pain

- Shoulder and elbow pain

- Low back pain

- Hip and knee pain


While TPDN is an effective treatment tool, there are some risks involved. With TPDN there is the possibility of mild bruising, nerve irritation, and soreness. A more serious risk with TPDN is the potential for a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) when inserted near the rib cage. This risk can be avoided with appropriate training, technique and attention to anatomy by your provider. Overall, the benefits of TPDN outweigh the risks. TPDN is a quick and effective soft tissue technique which helps break the cycle of tightness and pain.

Interested in seeing if Trigger Point Dry Needling can help you? Click here to get started!

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.

Dr. Kelsy Rayl

Physical Therapist
Kelsy Rayl is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) who specializes in vestibular rehabilitation, concussions, and general orthopedics. She works at Activcore in Castle Rock, CO which is located inside Optimal Health Chiropractic. While she enjoys helping all types of people achieve their activity and lifestyle goals, Kelsy particularly enjoys working with patients dealing with disorders that result in dizziness and patient’s recovering post-concussion. Kelsy is proud to be a part of her patient’s journey as they return to the core activities and daily abilities which make them feel like themselves.
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Is Dry Needling The Same As Acupuncture? Can It Get Rid Of My Pain?

You may have heard friends or family talk about being “needled” as a part of their physical therapy regimen. Some of them may have even described it as a magical cure for getting rid of pain! But what exactly is dry needling? Is it like acupuncture? And could it be helpful for you?