Is Dry Needling the same as Acupuncture?

It is a natural assumption that because the same needles are used for both acupuncture and dry needling that they are equivalent or the same treatment with different names. However, dry needling and acupuncture are two separate treatments, with distinct approaches and purposes.

Dry needling is when a trigger point in a muscle is identified by a physical therapist, or other appropriately licensed and trained professional, and a thin solid filament needle is inserted into the trigger point to produce a physiological response that decreases pain, increases range of motion of the muscle, and improves muscle function. The trigger point could be in any muscle that has pain or dysfunction and at any location in the muscle. One trigger point or many trigger points can be treated during a session of dry needling. Typically, there is immediate relief or improvement in function or range of motion. There can be muscle soreness or achiness that occurs the next day but that will subside. The main purpose of dry needling is to improve the function of a muscle, decrease pain, increase range of motion and increase strength of the muscle.

Acupuncture is performed by a licensed and trained Acupuncturist. The same type of thin solid filament needle is used during acupuncture treatments as dry needling, however, where the needles are inserted and for what purpose is different. Needles are inserted in very specific anatomical points on the body that are not always in muscle. These specific named acupuncture points relate to documented channels of energy or “chi” that flow through the body. Depending on what the acupuncturist is treating, different specific points will have needles inserted at specific depths. The needles are left in these points for a prescribed amount of time depending on what is being treated. Acupuncturists treat allergies, pain, hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, anxiety, depression, headaches and many more complaints. The intent or purpose of the needles is to affect the flow of chi through the meridians and restore balance to the body which stimulates the body’s own healing capabilities.

While there certainly are some commonalities to dry needling and acupuncture, they are two distinct and different modalities, with their own intentions, theory, physiology and methodology. Understanding each will help you decide which is the best treatment for you.