What is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?

Trigger point dry needling (TPDN) is a common soft tissue therapy that we use here at Watsonia Podiatry.

It is used to treat various soft tissue injuries such as plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and achilles tendinopathy.

Trigger point dry needling is often compared to acupuncture, as both practices use fine needles to elicit responses from the body. While they have similarities, there are differences between acupuncture and trigger point dry needling.

Today, we’re going to talk about these differences as well as go into a little more depth about what us podiatrists use trigger point dry needling for.

Firstly, what is acupuncture?

Acupuncture involves inserting very fine needles into various aspects of the body.

It can be used for a number of different reasons including pain relief, stress management, to treat nausea and migraines or even to assist with fertility.

It is a traditional Chinese medicine technique and is used to balance the flow of energy, also known as ‘qi’.

The needles are placed in very specific spots on the body to help assist the flow of energy and stimulate nerves.

What is trigger point dry needling?

Trigger point dry needling involves the use of an acupuncture needle into a trigger point within the muscle.

The aim of trigger point dry needling is to relax the trigger point in order to reduce your pain.

It provides what is called an analgesic effect, which is pain relief. It also helps to promote blood flow to the area and flush out the chemicals responsible for pain.

When the acupuncture needle is inserted into the muscle, it initiates a chemical and mechanical response.

The ‘twitch’ response is a visible small movement of the muscle and it indicates that the needle has accurately penetrated the trigger point.

What are trigger points?

A trigger point is a taut band within the belly of a muscle and is often referred to as a ‘knot’ in the muscle.

It is associated with localised pain when the trigger point is palpated or massaged and a referral of pain to other structures nearby.

They form due to acute trauma or repeated microtraumas in the muscle fibres and can occur all throughout the body.

Is dry needling painful?

The sensation of dry needling is different for everyone.

Some find it uncomfortable, whilst others barely notice it.

It also depends on which muscles are being targeted, with larger muscle groups usually being slightly more uncomfortable to needle.

Patients will feel the initial sharp prick of the needle when it is inserted into the skin and may experience a dull, heavy, aching feeling and/or a twitch response when the needle is inserted, which is completely normal.

As the needles are very fine, the initial sharp prick tends to be less noticeable then when you get a needle for a flu shot for example.

How do podiatrists use dry needling?

Typically, our podiatrists will apply dry needling from the knee to the toes, which incorporates over 20 muscles.

The lower leg can be split into different sections to include different muscles that can be needled.

Anterior compartment: tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus and extensor hallucis longus.

Lateral compartment: peroneus longus and peroneus brevis

Posterior compartment: tibialis posterior, soleus, flexor digitorum longus and the flexor hallucis longus.

Within the feet, there are 4 layers of muscles, all of which can also be needled.

What is dry needling used to treat?

There are a few conditions where we would recommend trigger point dry needling, including:

Will I have to get dry needling done when I see the podiatrist?

Not necessarily. If you are experiencing any of the conditions we mentioned above, we may recommend this as a treatment option, however, if you’re not comfortable with the treatment or there are other conditions that need addressing as well, it may not be the best treatment option for you.

We will always discuss dry needling and answer your questions before commencing the treatment.

Come see us today

If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort in your feet or lower limbs, then come see us here at Watsonia Podiatry. We’re based in Melbourne’s North-East suburbs and we’re here to help you solve your foot problems today.

Book in to see us by calling us on (03) 9432 2689 or online here.


Aaron Dri