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At first glance, dry needling and acupuncture may seem extremely similar. After all, they both involve inserting a needle into the skin in order to relieve pain. Although the two practices seem almost identical on the surface, they are actually extremely different. Especially if you are someone who has never received either treatment before, it can be incredibly confusing to understand which one would be the right solution for you. In this blog, we’re breaking down the differences between these procedures so you can determine which aligns best with your preferences.


What is acupuncture?


The practice of acupuncture has been around for 3,000 years. Rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture quickly grew in popularity in the United States in recent decades as an effective way to relieve pain. Accepted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the practice is deemed both safe and effective. Although, the effects of acupuncture on the brain and body and how best to measure them are only beginning to be understood. Current evidence suggests that many factors—like expectation and belief—that are unrelated to acupuncture needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain.


Acupuncture professionals utilize thin needles inserted into certain parts of the body, known as acupuncture points. According to ancient Chinese philosophy, energy called “qi” flows through our body, creating a balance of the two opposing forces of yin and yang. However, this flow can become obstructed, leading to pain and illness. The procedure of acupuncture supposedly opens up these pathways, triggering the body’s natural healing. Chinese doctrine is deeply intertwined with acupuncture, but modern research has given credit to its effectiveness. Some research reveals that acupuncture has the ability to impact the nervous system, endocrine and immune systems, cardiovascular system and digestive system to relieve pain.




 Common conditions and symptoms that can be treated with acupuncture include:


  • joint and muscle pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • menstrual cramps
  • allergies


During your first acupuncture session, you can expect to discuss your current health needs with your acupuncturist. Doing so will help you get the most out of your treatment. Then, the acupuncturist will do a light physical exam according to your individual needs. Next, you’ll like down on the treatment table while the acupuncturist gets to work placing the needles across various areas of your body according to the traditional acupuncture points. The needles are typically left in anywhere from five to 30 minutes for maximum effectiveness.


The frequency of your acupuncture visits is entirely up to your preferences and needs. For those with more severe symptoms, one or two treatments per week may be necessary. Otherwise, fewer visits are usually sufficient. Remember, it all depends on your individual needs and treatment plan.



What is dry needling?

Similarly, dry needling incorporates fine needles inserted into the muscle in order to decrease pain. That is where the similarities end. As opposed to the ancient philosophy that guides acupuncture, the theory behind dry needling is to release myofascial trigger points in the muscle. These trigger points are essentially knots in your muscles that can cause pain. Such knots are formed when a group of muscle fibers has not lengthened back to a relaxed state after physical activity or strain. There are many ways that myofascial trigger points are formed, including:


  • injury
  • unexpected movements
  • quick movements
  • change in regular activity or muscle loading
  • sustained postures
  • nerve impingement
  • stress
  • illness
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • metabolic and endocrine conditions


Dry needling allows the targeted muscle or muscles to relax. When the needle is inserted, blood pools around the trigger point, allowing the muscles to receive fresh oxygen and nutrients. It also flushes away any possible acidic chemicals that may be present, leading to decompression of that muscle group. It is particularly effective for treating osteoarthritis. You should feel instant relief.


This technique is most effective when paired with other treatments such as massage, physical therapy and exercise. It’s important to note that there is no quick fix to chronic pain; however, many people have seen wonderful results with dry needling.




Which one is right for you?


At the end of the day, you have the final say when it comes to choosing which treatment would work best for you. It’s important to note that acupuncture has long been studied and practiced, and as such, there is much more definitive research on its effectiveness. Dry needling, on the other hand, is a much newer practice. If you are someone looking for a treatment that you can trust with a long-standing reputation, acupuncture might be the route for you.


However, existing research of dry needling points toward similar results as acupuncture. This research, although limited, is extremely promising. Although keep in mind that because of the newness of this technique, practitioners are not as regulated. This could lead to unsafe needle practices, which can potentially be damaging to your health. Thoroughly research your dry needling professional before going in for your first treatment.


Where do I find a practitioner?


It’s important to ensure you are visiting a practitioner that is licensed. That way, you can be confident you are receiving the best care without any risks to your health and wellbeing. Thankfully, there are a number of online resources to find a competent professional.


For an acupuncture practitioner, check out these websites:



If you are a professional looking to expand your practice, studying both acupuncture and dry needling can be beneficial to your business in addition to increasing your understanding of each treatment. Our store offers a wide variety of high-quality acupuncture needles trusted by professionals. We also offer wonderful myotech dry needles that are perfectly suited to target those trigger points mentioned above.

2 years ago
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