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Dry Needling Versus Acupuncture

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

Dry needling and acupuncture are two treatment modalities that are often used by physiotherapists to help alleviate pain and improve function. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are actually some key differences between the two. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at what dry needling and acupuncture are, how they work, and how they differ from one another.



What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a treatment modality that involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin at specific points on the body. These points, known as trigger points, are areas of muscle that have become tight, hard, and painful. When a needle is inserted into a trigger point, it can help to relax the muscle and reduce pain.

Dry needling is based on the principles of western medicine and is primarily used to treat musculoskeletal conditions such as neck and back pain, headaches, and sports injuries. Your physiotherapist may suggest dry needling as part of treatment if they think it may be beneficial (although of course, you always have the right to refuse, and your physiotherapist should be able to provide you with alternatives).

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment modality that involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body. These points are located along pathways known as meridians, which are believed to carry energy or Qi (pronounced "chee") throughout the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, when the flow of Qi is disrupted or blocked, it can cause pain and other health issues. Acupuncture is believed to help restore the balance of Qi in the body and improve overall health.

Your physiotherapist may utilize acupuncture with these principles in mind, as well as to help decrease pain and improve circulation to a specific area of the body.

How are dry needling and acupuncture similar?


Both dry needling and acupuncture can be used with similar treatment goals in mind - that is, to decrease pain and improve capacity for movement. Both consist of insertion of thin needles (thinner than for a vaccine or blood test!) into the skin. Nothing is being inserted with these needles, and the risks associated with needle insertion are the same between the two techniques. Always ensure that your healthcare professional has adequately explained the possible risks of a treatment to you.

How do dry needling and acupuncture differ?

While dry needling and acupuncture both involve the insertion of needles into the skin, there are several key differences between the two modalities.

  • Theory and principles: As mentioned earlier, dry needling is based on the principles of western medicine, while acupuncture is based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

  • Training and certification: Physiotherapists must receive specific training to be able to perform both acupuncture or dry needling. Acupuncture can also be performed by an acupuncturist, which is a separate profession in many countries.

  • The number and location of needles: Acupuncture typically involves the insertion of several needles into specific points along the meridians. Dry needling, on the other hand, typically involves the insertion of a single needle into specific muscle trigger points.

  • The depth of needle insertion: Acupuncture needles are usually inserted to a deeper depth than dry needling needles.

Which is better: dry needling or acupuncture?


Both dry needling and acupuncture can be effective treatments for certain conditions, and the best choice will depend on the individual patient and their specific needs. In general, dry needling is more focused on treating musculoskeletal conditions, while acupuncture can be used to treat a wider range of conditions.

It's important to note that dry needling and acupuncture are just two of many treatment modalities that physiotherapists may use to help alleviate pain and improve function. Your physiotherapist will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your specific needs.

In conclusion, while dry needling and acupuncture may seem similar at first glance, they are actually quite different treatment modalities. Dry needling is based on western medicine principles and is used primarily to treat musculoskeletal conditions, while acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine principles and is used to treat a wider range of conditions. It's important to work with a qualified healthcare professional to determine the best treatment option for your specific needs.


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