Someone not trained in the practice of dry needling may think this Physical Therapy (PT) practice is a basic form of acupuncture. While both methods of acupuncture and trigger point dry needling use needles, the two methods are different in uses and benefits. Lets talk about the difference between dry needling and acupuncture.

Acupuncture and its Uses

Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice that entails stimulating certain points on the body most often with a needle penetrating the skin to alleviate pain, or to help treat various health conditions. Treatment is not always directed to the area of pain or dysfunction. The underlying use of acupuncture goes further back than just pain management.

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is linked to the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy, or Qi, in the body. Acupuncture stimulates areas on or under the skin called acupuncture points, or acupressure points, releasing this Qi. According to the Center for Spirituality & Healing at the University of Minnesota, the Qi then travels through channels called meridians.

Another hypothesis on acupuncture is it works by reducing pro-inflammatory markers, or proteins, in the body. Some animal and human studies suggest by doing acupuncture, you can significantly decrease these pro-inflammatory markers, which decreases inflammation and reduces pain.

Reasons for Using Acupuncture

  • Headaches
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Dysmemenorhea
  • Digestive Disorders
  • Chronic Pain

Acupuncture is believed to elicit the body’s own self healing mechanisms. Physical therapists, unlike practitioners of acupuncture, use the practice of dry needling for only medical uses.

What is trigger point dry needling?

As defined by the American Physical Therapy Association:

Dry needling, or dry needle therapy, is a skilled intervention that uses a thin filiform needle to penetrate the skin and stimulate underlying myofascial trigger points, muscular, and connective tissues for the management of musculoskeletal pain and movement impairments. Dry needling (DN) is a technique used to treat dysfunctions in skeletal muscle, fascia, and connective tissue, and, diminish persistent peripheral nociceptive input, (pain) and reduce or restore impairments of body structure and function leading to improved activity and participation.

Acupuncture points could be confused with trigger points in dry needling, but a trigger point is quite unrelated.

Defining Trigger Points

A trigger point is a tight band of skeletal muscle that is located within a larger muscle group. A trigger point can be tender to the touch, and pressing on it can also cause pain to radiate to other parts of the body.  Dry needling is an effective, direct approach to manage trigger points.

Types of Pain Dry Needling Works On

This treatment can be used to manage the issues such as, but not limited to:

  • Generalized musculoskeletal pain
  • Arthritis
  • Nerve irritation from the back or neck
  • Ligament strain
  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Tennis elbow
  • Plantar fasciitis

Patients will often experience results after the first treatment, however patients see full results in 4-6 treatments. Dry needling patients will experience benefits such as:

  • Increased range of motion,
  • Decreases in pain or tightness.
  • Decreased nerve pain
  • Injury resolution

Trigger point dry needling is a direct treatment approach to the problem area of muscles, nerve pain, and other issues as listed above. While acupuncture does not directly treat the injured area.

Joy and Joyce are both highly experienced manual therapists who are trained in trigger point dry needling.  If you are injured or experiencing pain, call to set up a consultation at 704-541-1191 or email

If you would like to learn more about dry needling visit our previous blog post all about the PT method.