A Trigger Point is a tight, tender nodule located within muscle fibers that cause pain and dysfunction.
Dr. Janet Travell, best known as President John F. Kennedy's personal doctor, studied and catalogued every trigger point known.
How do trigger points work?
A trigger point can cause a muscle or muscle groups to shorten which can lead to a joint or a limb to not function correctly.
For example, a person may come in with shoulder pain, and point to the red area in the front, and say that is where they feel pain, but the black "x" is the main trigger point or knot, that is causing the pain. As you can see, it's not where the red area is, but it is where I would have to treat to relieve pain in the red area.
In this example, the trigger point is pretty close to the painful area. That's not always the case. If someone has knee pain that is in front of the knee, the trigger point causing that pain is actually very close to the hip so you can stretch and foam roll your quads everyday and you still won't release it enough to have lasting relief and more importantly, regain proper function of the knee.
How is acupuncture different from dry needing?
It isn't different at all. Dry needling is done by using an acupuncture needle to puncture the skin, down to the muscle, to release the trigger point. It's acupuncture.
In eastern medicine, acupuncturists treat points along a meridian pathway. Many of those points are actually trigger points or what we call, "ashi" points. An ashi point is any tight tender nodule we can find on the body.
I will say there is a HUGE difference between getting needled by a physical therapist who trains for a few hours over a weekend course vs a licensed acupuncturist who spends 3-4 years learning how to identify structural/postural, joint and myofascial (muscle) dysfunction and how to needle safely and properly.
Acupuncture can also help you relax, sleep well, improve digestion, balance hormones, regulate menstruation and so much more. That's not something you're going to get with just "dry needling" done by a physical therapist, chiropractor or anyone else who has finally caught on that acupuncture works best for pain management and relief (or they wouldn't be doing it).
In New York State, it is currently illegal for anyone other than an acupuncturist to do trigger point needling or "dry needling", except for a licensed Medical Doctor who would be injecting a solution into your body along with the trigger point injection anyway.
In June of this year, the American Medical Association released a statement requiring Physical Therapists to get a minimum of training that an acupuncturist gets. They basically now have to become licensed acupuncturists in order to needle legally because it is, after all, an invasive procedure.
Is dry needling safe?
It's only safe in the hands of a licensed acupuncturist. It's what we train years for and physical therapists only get a few hours over a weekend for or worse, take an online course for. Here is the result of what one physical therapist did to an Olympic hopeful. As an acupuncturist, I know how to needle around the lungs and other organs because I've been properly trained.
Who should get trigger point or dry needling?
Anyone with a body could use some form of acupuncture/trigger point release. Everyone from elite athletes to people who lead more sedentary lives because of their jobs. It's no secret that NFL, NBA and Olympic athletes regularly receive and credit acupuncture to a speedy recovery and pain relief.