Acupuncture

What’s the Difference Between Dry Needling and Trigger Point Injections?

Dr. Carl Clarkson
Dr. Carl Clarkson May 17, 2022
Practitioner applying dry needling to upper back

If you’re new to the world of dry needling and trigger points, you might be wondering what the difference is between dry needling and trigger point injections when they treat the same conditions, have similar results, and even have similar risk factors. In this article, we detail their differences, helping you to determine which treatment is right for your clients.

So, what’s the difference between dry needling and trigger point injections? Both treatments are used to relieve pain associated with trigger points, or muscle knots, however dry needling uses sterile, dry needles to stimulate the tissue, whilst trigger point injections inject local anaesthetic and steroids into the affected area to relieve pain and restore function.

Read on to learn more about dry needling and trigger point injections.

Is Dry Needling and Trigger Point Injections the Same Thing?

Whilst they may appear similar on the surface, and have the same desired outcome, dry needling and trigger point injections are not the same thing. Below we explain what each treatment is, and their key differences, to help both you and your clients determine the best course of action for their individual needs. 

What is Dry Needling?

Similar to acupuncture, dry needling is an effective technique for the treatment of certain musculoskeletal conditions, such as trigger points, or pain in the shoulder, neck, back, hip, and heel (1). Practitioners insert thin, dry, needles into the affected muscle, which then stimulates the tissue, causing the muscle to contract and relax as normal (2).

What are Trigger Point Injections?

Trigger point injections are used for the same, or similar, reasons as dry needling, and are applied to trigger points (areas of soreness under the skin that are painful when pressed - also known as knots). This treatment applies local anaesthetic and steroids to the affected area via injections. Most clients will begin to feel the benefits within a few days. 

Key Differences Between Dry Needling and Trigger Point Injections

Dry needling and trigger point injections, whilst very different practises, typically treat the same conditions, with similar results. However, there are a few key differences (1, 3, 4) to note when determining which treatment is right for clients. 

Dry Needling 

  • Clean, sterile, dry needles are used. No fluids or medications are injected.
  • Clients can leave immediately after treatment, and are usually safe to drive. 
  • Can be performed by any qualified healthcare practitioner.

Trigger Point Injections

  • Local anaesthetic and steroids are injected into the affected area.
  • Clients are monitored for a number of hours after treatment for observation. They will be unable to drive after treatment for safety reasons.
  • Can only be performed by Pain Management Specialists and Orthopaedic Physicians.

What Can Dry Needling and Trigger Point Injections Help With?

Dry needling and trigger point injections are often used to treat similar conditions  (7, 9, 10)  in the back, neck, arms, and legs in particular, such as:

  • Poor posture
  • Muscle injury
  • Sports injuries
  • Scar tissue
  • Joint disorders
  • Poor function  and/or mechanics than place stress on the muscle
  • Limited range of motion
  • Tension headaches and migraines

Does Dry Needling and Trigger Point Injections Offer the Same Benefits?

The point of both dry needling and trigger point injections is to alleviate pain and allow clients to regain normal function. As such, other benefits (5, 6) are not great in number, but do include:

  • Pain relief
  • Relief of muscular stiffness
  • Improved flexibility
  • Improved range of motion
  • Accelerates recovery
  • Increased activity levels

It’s worth noting that trigger point injections have the additional benefit of being able to treat other conditions such as fibromyalgia, tension headaches and myofascial pain (7).

How Long Do the Benefits of Dry Needling and Trigger Point Injections Last?

With dry needling, clients will typically begin to notice an improvement in their symptoms within a few days, however this will vary from person to person. After their first couple of sessions, the benefits will usually last around a week, but with every subsequent session, the benefits should last longer. As such, most clients will need at least 3 sessions of dry needling to reach the maximum benefit (8).

The effects of trigger point injections will  usually begin to show between 24-72 hours after treatment, and typically last for about 1 month (9). However, longer-lasting pain relief can be achieved in some cases with recurring injections (injections containing just anaesthetic can be administered more frequently than those containing steroids). 

Are There any Side Effects With Dry Needling or Trigger Point Injections?

The side effects of dry needling and trigger point injections are fairly similar, but are uncommon, and mild when they do occur (8, 9). The most common side effects include soreness, numbness, redness, bruising, and bleeding at the point of injection, fatigue, and dizziness or fainting. 

That being said, there are a number of groups of people ( 9, 10) that should avoid dry needling and trigger point injections for safety reasons:

Contraindications of Dry Needling

  • Those with blood disorders
  • Those taking blood thinners
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with a compromised immune system
  • Diabetics
  • Those with epilepsy
  • Those with lymphedema
  • Extreme fear of needles

Contraindications of Trigger Point Injections

  • Those with blood disorders
  • Those taking blood thinners
  • Those that have taken aspirin within 3 days of treatment
  • Those with an infection
  • Those with anaesthetic allergies
  • Those with acute muscle trauma
  • Extreme fear of needles

Final Thoughts

On the surface, dry needling and trigger point injections can seem fairly similar, as they treat similar conditions, with similar results, and even have similar risk factors. However, there are a few key differences between the two treatments that should help clients and practitioners alike determine a suitable course of action.

What’s more, all research and available information leads to the implication that trigger point injections are a treatment for more severe conditions that have not responded to other treatment options, such as dry needling, physiotherapy, massage, or osteopathy.

If you’re interested in dry needling and would like to offer it as an additional service in your practice to help with musculoskeletal conditions such as trigger points, Breeze Academy offers a number of dry needling courses that can kick start your journey. Take a look at our foundation level dry needling courses, available in all major cities across the UK today.

If that’s not for you, we also offer a number of other courses that will enable you to expand your service offerings, such as clinical yoga teacher training, sports massage training, and strength and condition training

Take a look online today, or get in touch for more information.

Sources

  1. Mayo Clinic - On pins and needles: Just what is dry needling?

  2. St Thomas Medical Group - How Dry Needling Provides Instant Relief from Knots

  3. Nuffield Health - Trigger Point Injections

  4. London Pain Clinic - Trigger Point Injections

  5. Healthline  - Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: Which Is Right for You?

  6. Foothills Sports Medicine  - Dry Needling: Benefits and What to Expect

  7. Cleveland Clinic - Trigger Point Injection

  8. Very Well Health - What Is Dry Needling?

  9. Medstar Health - Trigger Point Injections

  10. Physio4All - Trigger Points Dry Needling

  11. American Family Physician - Trigger Points: Diagnosis and Management

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