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Trigger Point Dry Needling & Acupuncture: Same, Same but Different

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

"Same, Same but Different" is not something you regularly hear in Denver, CO but it is a common phrase in Thailand. It used to describe an obvious difference in food, scooter type, couch, etc. but, because of the language barrier, it is too hard to describe the slight differences. At first glance, one might use this phrase to describe the difference between Trigger Point Dry Needling (TPDN) and Acupuncture. They both use the same, small, monofilament needle that is inserted into the skin. But that is where the similarities end. The different techniques and goals of TPDN and acupuncture are important to recognize as each technique is used to help treat symptoms in different ways.

As a physical therapist, I am trained in TPDN. I have no training in acupuncture but have received it myself (headaches) and often refer appropriate patients to try it to address their ailments. For some patients, it is appropriate for acupuncture and TPDN to be used concurrently in order to achieve the best results. For other patients, acupuncture alone or TPDN alone may be the best option. Keep reading to determine what form of treatment may right for you.

Acupuncture is based in traditional Chinese medicine and addresses energy patterns (or chi/qi/chee) along meridians. Acupuncturists receive years of training to learn about meridian patterns, pain patterns, and various techniques. Although acupuncture is considered more Eastern medicine, it is frequently used to address pain, fertility, and stress in Western countries.

Learn more about acupuncture here:

Trigger Point Dry Needling is based in Western medicine and addresses tissue restrictions to reduce pain, improve tissue quality, and improve mobility. Needles are inserted directly into the dysfunctional (and sometimes painful) tissue to mechanically "break down" the restrictions. This allows the muscle to reset, which is helped by gentle mobility and strength exercises prescribed to you by your physical therapist. Learn more about dry needling and physical therapy here:

Common ailments treated with TPDN include:

  • Concussion and whiplash

  • Headaches

  • Shoulder pain

  • Low back pain

  • Neck pain

  • Patellofemoral pain

  • Hip pain/Impingement

TPDN may be covered under your insurance as part of your physical therapy benefits. Many physical therapists offer concierge appointments, or private pay appointments, just for TPDN.

Colorado allows for both direct access (you do not need a doctor's script to receive care from a PT) and dry needling from a physical therapist. That means you can be seen as earlier as today to address your pain and restrictions!

For anyone not located in Colorado, check your state guidelines here:

For Denver (Central, City Park, RiNo, Capitol Hill, Cherry Creek, Wash Park) residents, my office is very accessible (923 W. 9th Ave, Denver 80204; inside Muscle+Mindset Gym) OR I can come to you for a mobile dry needling appointment!

Book a clinic appointment here:

For mobile services email me directly:


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