January 29, 2024

Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture

Comparing and contrasting these two treatments for pain relief

Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture

On the surface, dry needling and acupuncture sound like they are the same thing. Both involve the insertion of needles and can be used for pain relief. However, these two treatment methods in a variety of areas, including their origins, purpose, and needle placement.

This article explores the similarities and differences between dry needling and acupuncture. Read on to learn about these two techniques.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a technique used in physical therapy and other healthcare fields to treat musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. During a dry needling session, a trained physical therapist inserts thin, sterile monofilament needles into trigger points, or tight knots of muscle fibers.

The primary goal of dry needling is to alleviate pain and improve muscle functions and range of motion. The needles stimulate the trigger points, which can help relax and release tension in the muscle. This can result in decreased pain and improved mobility. Dry needling can also improve muscle function by reducing muscle spasms, increasing blood flow, and promoting hte healing process in affected tissues.

Benefits of Dry Needling

Many people have reported several benefits from dry needling, including:

  • Pain relief: Dry needling can help alleviate pain associated with musculoskeletal conditions. By targeting trigger points and tight muscle bands, the procedure can reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation, resulting in pain reduction.
  • Improved range of motion: The release of tension in tight muscles and trigger points can lead to improved joint mobility and range of motion. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with stiffness or restricted movement.
  • Enhanced muscle function: Dry needling can enhance muscle function by reducing muscle spasms and promoting better muscle coordination. This can be advantageous for athletes and individuals recovering from injuries.
  • Reduced muscle knots: The insertion of needles into trigger points can help break up knots in muscles, leading to decreased muscle tightness and discomfort.
  • Faster recovery: The procedure may expedite the healing process by increasing blood flow to the treated area and promoting the body's natural healing mechanisms.
  • Drug-free approach: Dry needling offers a drug-free alternative for managing pain and improving musculoskeletal function, which can be especially appealing to individuals who prefer to avoid medications or are looking for additional treatment options.

A Few Notes on Dry Needling

Dry needling has gained popularity in recent years, and there is ongoing research to support its effectiveness for various musculoskeletal conditions, including chronic pain, sports injuries, and musculoskeletal disorders. However, its efficacy may vary from person to person, and more research is needed to fully understand its mechanisms and benefits.

Dry needling should only be performed by qualified and trained healthcare professionals. The use of sterile needles and proper hygiene is essential to prevent infection or complications.

Common side effects of dry needling may include temporary soreness, bruising, or bleeding at the needle insertion sites. In rare cases, more severe side effects, such as infection or nerve injury, can occur, emphasizing the importance of having the procedure done by a skilled practitioner.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a traditional medical practice that originated in ancient China and has been used for thousands of years. During an acupuncture session, thin needles, typically made of stainless steel, are inserted into selected acupuncture points at varying depths. Acupuncture points are specific locations on the body that are believed to be interconnected by pathways through which vital energy, known as "Qi" (pronounced "chee"), flows. Acupuncturists insert needles into these points to influence the flow of Qi and restore balance.

Practitioners of acupuncture believe the treatment can be used to address a wide range of health issues such as musculoskeletal pain, headaches, digestive disorders, respiratory conditions, stress, and anxiety. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is used to correct imbalances in the body's energy, which is believed to be the root cause of many health problems. It is believed that acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins and promotes circulation, which can help reduce pain and inflammation.

Benefits of Acupuncture

While individual responses to acupuncture can vary, many people report experiencing pain relief, reduced stress, improved sleep, headache and migraine relief, and enhanced well-being.

A Few Notes on Acupuncture

While acupuncture has a long history of use and anecdotal reports of effectiveness, scientific research on its efficacy for various conditions is ongoing. Some studies suggest that acupuncture may be beneficial for certain conditions, but more research is needed to establish its effectiveness definitively.

When performed by trained and licensed acupuncturists using sterile needles and proper hygiene, acupuncture is generally considered safe. Serious side effects are rare, but minor side effects such as temporary pain, bruising, or bleeding at the needle insertion sites can occur.

Acupuncture is considered a complementary or alternative therapy and should not be used as a sole replacement for conventional medical treatments, especially for serious or life-threatening conditions.

Differences between Dry Needling and Acupuncture

Dry needling and acupuncture both involve the insertion of thin needles into the body, but they are not the same thing. They have distinct origins, underlying philosophies, and methods of practice.


Dry needling is a more recent therapeutic technique that emerged in the Western medical community. It is based on Western anatomical and neurophysiological principles and does not have the same historical and philosophical roots as acupuncture.

Acupuncture is an ancient healing practice that originated in China over 2,000 years ago. It is an integral component of traditional Chinese medicine and is based on the concept of balancing the body's vital energy along pathways.


Dry needling is based on a Western medical understanding of the musculoskeletal system. It focuses primarily on treating pain and dysfunction by targeting trigger points and myofascial pain sources.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, is rooted in the holistic philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, which involves the balance of yin and yang energies and the harmonious flow of Qi. Acupuncturists use specific acupuncture points to influence the body's energy flow.


Dry needling primarily targets musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. It is more narrowly focused on relieving pain and improving muscle function in specific areas of the body.

Acupuncture is a holistic therapy with a broader scope. Acupuncturists believe it can address a wide range of conditions, from musculoskeletal issues to emotional imbalances.

Training and Certification

Practitioners of dry needling, such as physical therapists, receive training specific to this technique. Licensing requirements for dry needling may vary by state.

Acupuncturists typically undergo extensive training in traditional Chinese medicine, diagnosis, and acupuncture point selection. They may be required to obtain a license or certification in their respective jurisdictions.

Needle Placement

In dry needling, thin, sterile needles are inserted directly into trigger points or tight muscle bands that are often located within or near the area of pain or dysfunction. The choice of trigger points is based on a physical examination and assessment of musculoskeletal issues.

During acupuncture, acupuncturists insert needles into specific points located along meridians or pathways, which may be distant from the site of pain or discomfort. The selection of points is based on individual diagnosis and pattern identification.

Our Approach to Dry Needling

At Achieve Ortho Rehab, we use dry needling in conjunction with manual therapy, exercise, and other physical therapy techniques in some patients' treatment plans. All of our therapists are licensed to perform dry needling, and the procedure is used at each of our locations.

Use the button below to contact one of our physical therapists to learn more about dry needling or to schedule an appointment. We can typically see you within 48 hours.

Contact a Physical Therapist