Dry Needling, what is it?

Dry Needling, what is it?

Dry Needling is rapidly growing in popularity. The correct term is called, “Trigger Point Needling.” We do trigger point needling at our clinic. In certain cases, it works great. However it is a tool of last resort. Keep reading to find out why.

Dry Needling is a term that comes from the time when trigger points were being needled with syringes that are empty. An empty syringe is called a “dry needle”. The term of using a dry needle lost popularity when acupuncture needles came onto the scene. Being smaller and cheaper acupuncture needles became the go-to tool for trigger point needling.

Recently, in an effort to make money, certain companies revitalized the term “dry needling” as a way to circumvent acupuncture laws and make millions of dollars teaching trigger point needling to physical therapists and chiropractors.

Trigger point needling

Trigger points were first discovered in the 1850s and has a rich history of treatment in the West. In the east trigger point needling was the original acupuncture technique! Anthropologists suspect that part of the way acupuncture was developed was through palpating and then needling certain tender spots, today known as “trigger points.” The ancients called them “a-shi” points which translates to, the very non-medical-sounding, “oh-shit” points. (I’m kidding, it’s “Outch, yes” points. Still very non-medical-sounding). I love the ancient history of Acupuncture, my favorite book for patients on this subject is “The Healing Power of Acupressure and Acupuncture.”

Trigger point needling involves finding a painful trigger point, and then sticking a needle into it. This releases the tight muscle and helps with pain. The trigger point is usually found in the belly of a muscle, this is why physical therapists are so drawn to the technique.

Physical therapists are the masters of muscles and the acupuncture needle (the filiform needle) is the best tool at releasing the trigger point. Some physical therapy clinics have acupuncturists in their office to help with patients who need this kind of needling. Aj Adamczyk was an acupuncturist at a physical therapist office in NJ. Instead of PTs in that office risking the health and safety of their patients by doing “dry needling” they instead have an expert do it for them. Now Aj has opened his own clinic and receives referrals from local PTs in his area. This is the the correct way that PTs can use trigger point needling with their patients.

When a trigger point is found, and then released, permanent relief is achieved if the pain was being caused by that trigger point. The pain would never come back so long as the patient stops whatever caused the trigger point to be created to begin with. (Example: bad posture). The trouble with this technique is that it’s very uncomfortable. In this regard it’s only used as a last result, if other methods don’t work. Of course, in the hands of a licensed acupuncturist it’s never painful.

When it comes to the sensation of trigger point needling, I don’t like to use the word, “pain”. Pain is associated with suffering and injury. Instead we call it, “Therapeutic discomfort”. When we frame sensations from “Ahh!! you’re killing me” to ” ahh… that hurts so good” we have a totally different experience.

-Adrian Abascal, L.Ac.


Under the wrong hands this method is also very dangerous! It involves putting needles right near where the nerves enter the belly of the muscle. Without an acupuncture license, someone doing this technique can cause permanent nerve damage, organ damage, or even death.

Perhaps in the future there will be an easier way to train PTs and Chiros to do trigger point needling so that they need not circumvent the laws created to protect the public. Right now it is prohibitively difficult for these folks to get training. It is unacceptable that they would need to go back to school for many years just to pick up a needle. Maybe in the future accreditation at medical schools with accept their medical training to shorten the amount of time it takes to get a license to practice acupuncture.

Please do not blame individual practitioners for circumventing the law to practice acupuncture without a license. These folks believe it is legal and safe. They were tricked into believing it, this way their money can be taken from them in the form of tuition to these soulless corporations who only see the bottom line.