New patients text “Appt” to 714-377-4314 to schedule an Evaluation! 

5 key differences between dry needling vs. acupuncture



Schedule an AppointmentView Services

When looking at physical therapy and alternative therapies, dry needling and acupuncture have both gained popularity thanks to their potential to provide pain relief from various health issues. They both use thin needles; however, these techniques differ significantly in their principles, applications and intended outcomes. In this comprehensive exploration, we will see what dry needling and acupuncture are, their key differences, and insights into how you can figure out which one best fits your needs. 

Understanding dry needling

Dry needling is a therapeutic treatment that involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles directly into myofascial trigger points. These are tight bands of muscle fibers. Dry needling should only be done by a certified practitioner. The goal of dry needling is to trigger a twitch response. This response can help release tension and improve muscle function. It is important to note that dry needling stems from Western medicine principles. It is often used by certified physical therapists, chiropractors or other health care professionals who are trained in musculoskeletal conditions. 

During a dry needling session, a certified practitioner will insert thin, sterile needles through the skin into specific points in the muscles, tendons or ligaments. These needles are solid and don’t inject any substance into the body. The process of dry needling aims to help stimulate trigger points. This stimulation can help increase circulation, release muscular tension and trigger the body’s natural healing response. 

Dry needling can be used to address a variety of musculoskeletal issues. These can include myofascial pain syndrome, muscle strains, ligament strains and sports-related injuries. Dry needling focuses on improving range of motion, reducing pain and improving overall muscle function. 

Understanding acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves inserting thin, sterile needles into specific points along meridians. These are energy pathways believed to flow through the body. Unlike dry needling, acupuncture is rooted in Eastern medicine philosophy. It focuses on the balance and flow of energy. This is known as the “Qi” within the body. 

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the insertion of acupuncture needles can help balance the flow of Qi. This balanced flow can help promote harmony and address imbalances leading to illness. Practitioners may target specific acupuncture points based on your individual symptoms and the underlying pattern of disharmony identified by traditional Chinese medicine.

Acupuncture is known for its holistic approach. It can be used to address a wide range of conditions, including pain management, stress reduction, digestive issues, fertility concerns and emotional well-being. It can be a complementary therapy to help promote overall health and balance within the body. 

Differences between dry needling and acupuncture

Dry needling and acupuncture have their own features that make them unique. Differences between dry needling and acupuncture can include:

  • Philosophy — Dry needling is grounded in Western medicine. It focuses on trigger points and musculoskeletal issues. Acupuncture is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine. It emphasizes the balance of the energy flow, or Qi, along the meridians. 
  • Treatment approach — Dry needling is used to target specific trigger points, to help release muscle tension and improve overall functioning. Acupuncture is used to help balance the flow of energy throughout the body. It can help address your overall well-being.
  • Needle insertion depth — Dry needling is used to treat specific anatomical structures. These structures include the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Acupuncture needles are inserted at shallow to deep depths along the energy meridians.
  • Needle sensation — Dry needling can trigger a local twitch response in the treated muscle. Acupuncture practitioners may seek the “De Qi” sensation, which is a feeling of fullness, numbness or warmth. 
  • Practice — Dry needling is done by a certified physical therapist, chiropractor, or health care professional with musculoskeletal expertise. Acupuncture is done by a licensed acupuncturist with training in traditional Chinese medicine. 

How do you decide which is right for you?

Choosing between dry needling and acupuncture can be like picking the right tool for the job. Determining which one best suits you comes down to understanding your health goals and what each technique can do to help:

  • Diagnosis and treatment focus — If you primarily deal with musculoskeletal issues like pain, muscle tightness or sports injuries, dry needling may be your better choice. If you are seeking a holistic approach to address a wider range of physical, emotional or energetic imbalances, you may want to opt for acupuncture. 
  • Philosophical alignment — If you have a preference for medicinal philosophies, this can influence your decision. If you prefer to seek Western philosophies, you will want to choose dry needling. If you would like to explore Eastern philosophies, you’ll want to choose acupuncture. 
  • Qualifications — No matter the technique you choose to pursue, you will want to make sure the practitioner has the proper qualifications to do the technique you choose. Physical therapists or chiropractors commonly do dry needling, while a licensed acupuncturist will do acupuncture. 
  • Personal preference — You will want to consider your comfort level with the sensation each technique may cause. Some people may prefer the local twitch response associated with dry needling, while others may prefer the energetic sensations experienced during acupuncture. 

The key differences between dry needling and acupuncture go beyond the needle itself. The differences encompass philosophy, treatment approaches and the intended outcomes. When deciding the best technique for you, it’s essential to choose the one that best fits your specific health concerns, treatment goals and personal preferences. You should also discuss treatment options with your health care provider.

REPAIR SI can help you decide between dry needling and acupuncture

At REPAIR SI, we understand that deciding between dry needling and acupuncture is a personal journey. We are here to help guide you every step of the way. Our certified and licensed team is committed to providing you with personalized and compassionate care that aligns with your health goals and preferences. We offer both treatment techniques and can help you explore their key differences to help you start your journey to optimal well-being. 

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.