What is Trigger Point Dry Needling and is it right for me?

Steven Zeiss, DPT, CLT

May 25, 2018


Over the past five years, trigger point dry needling (TDN) has burst on to the health care scene for treating a variety of orthopedic conditions. Like every other option out there, TDN is not for everyone. Actually, most would question why you would let someone stick a needle in your body if you don’t have to! But before you determine if it is something you would utilize in your rehab process, we first need a better understanding of what it is and if it is right for you.

What is it?

A trigger point is defined as a hyperirritable or hypersensitive spot in a tight band of muscle. 1 Basically think of those “knots” we all get in our body that are tender to touch. Trigger point dry needling is inserting an acupuncture needle into a muscle or general area of a trigger point to reduce pain and restore the affected muscle to its normal state. When patients hear the word acupuncture needle, the question generally arises of whether we are performing acupuncture? The short answer is no. The one and only similarity between the two is that we use the same needles. When using TDN for treatment, we are working deep into the muscle of the tender area and causing an immediate objective change in length and pain associated with that spot. The third and final component of this technique to clarify is the term “dry needling”. No medication is used during this technique, only the needle itself is being utilized to affect the area being treated.

How do I know TDN is right for me?

First and foremost, TDN is a skilled procedure that should only be performed by therapists that have completed the additional certification in these techniques. During an evaluation by assessing objective measures and through the use of palpation, a skilled therapist can determine if you are appropriate for the technique. It can be utilized to treat a variety of conditions including but not limited to:

  • Neck/Back Pain
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Tennis/Golfers Elbow
  • Headaches
  • Pelvic Pain
  • Hip and Gluteal Pain
  • Knee Pain
  • Achilles Tendonitis
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Sciatica
  • Muscular Strains/Ligament Sprains
  • Chronic Pain

What should I expect?

Everyone responds to TDN a little differently. You generally do not feel the needle being inserted until a trigger point is found. Yes the sensation is uncomfortable, but some even go as far as to say it doesn’t hurt as bad as when their therapist uses their hands. I can’t give a blanket statement on how you will feel during or after TDN because everyone is different. If nothing else you should expect to be sore. I always attempt to explain the feeling as one similar to the soreness you feel after a really hard work out. With that being said, the actual pain being treated should be less immediately following TDN. The associated soreness typically wears off within 24-48 hours.

I have completed TDN, now what?

Once the soreness begins wearing off you will start noticing the full effectiveness of TDN such as improved mobility and decreased pain. While the positive outcome can be permanent, TDN is just a small component to your plan of care with therapy. Some issues require a few sessions of needling and others may only require one session of needling followed up by other techniques such as manual therapy, stretching, and strengthening to correct what may have caused the trigger point to begin with.

While it is not a “cure all”, TDN can be an effective adjunct to your rehabilitation process. If you have an orthopedic condition speak with your practitioner to determine if TDN is right for you!

1ALVAREZ, David J., D.O., and ROCKWELL, Pamela G., D.O., University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Trigger Points: Diagnosis and Management. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Feb 15; 65(4):653-661.

We accept most major insurances in the Louisville area including Medicare and Passport.