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Dry Needling vs Acupuncture

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Although Dry Needling methods and Acupuncture both require needles, there are definite similarities and differences between the two, both in application and outcome. When using needles, both practitioners are technically using "dry" needling methods. This is because there is nothing injected into the skin when the needle is inserted. If a solution is injected, this is a form of "wet" needling, such as with acupoint injection therapy. What Physical Therapists, Chiropractors and other practitioners label as "dry needling" is in fact, trigger point therapy. This modality focuses on a specific muscle, or set muscle groups, and works to aggravate or stimulate areas of tension within the muscle, in an attempt to get it to release.


Trigger Points

With Acupuncture, the area of the pain and muscles involved are typically needled as well, but the meridians affected are also taken into consideration. As acupuncture mainly works with the neurological system, places where pain is being experienced are seen as an area where the nervous system is overstimulated, whereas areas of numbness may be seen as places where there is a lack of communication between neurons. Palpation along these neurological pathways are done on the affected meridians, to see exactly where the problem starts and stops. This can be compared to finding problematic areas on a circuit board, and repairing sections that have stopped working.

Anterior Meridians

Posterior Meridians

Along with working on the pain specifically, acupuncturists also look at the reason why the pain originated in the first place, and why the body is having a hard time repairing itself. For example, someone who partakes in a vigorous exercise routine may have difficulties in the recovery process if their digestive system isn't working as well as it should be, resulting in a lack of nutrition from replenishing the muscles, causing fatigue and a longer recovery time. Acupuncture will address the pain, but additional points will also be selected that help the body to increase the nutrient absorption from the food being digested. In this case, herbs would most likely be prescribed as well to help generate this process internally. Another example is someone whose Sympathetic Nervous System is too active, causing them to have constantly tense muscles. In addition to points for the pain, other points would be added that address calming the Nervous System, and releasing the sinews, to allow a deeper relaxation of the muscles.


Another major difference between "dry needling" and acupuncture is the length of training. Acupuncturists undergo training that lasts at least 3 years, year round, with additional training if they choose to undergo the Chinese herbal program as well, resulting in a dual Master's degree. This includes certifications for Clean Needle Technique and Clinical Competency while in school, and a variety of National Board Exams after graduating, before being able to apply for a license. Separate practitioners who use needling techniques as an adjunctive therapy typically undergo training as an extension of their education in another field.


Some people find that working with a well educated Physical Therapist may be more effective at treating their pain. Some people find that an acupuncturist is more effective at treating their pain. Others find great results combining the two practices. Whatever your choice may be, be sure that you are working with a practitioner who is safe, well educated, caring, and understanding of your needs, to ensure the best possible outcome for your personal treatment.

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