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The Key Differences Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture

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Dry needling and acupuncture offered at Summit Acupuncture have some key differences.

Both dry needling and acupuncture use thin needles, but they differ fundamentally in principles and applications. Acupuncture, with roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is guided by the concept of energy or Qi flowing through pathways known as meridians. Inserting needles at specific meridian points aims to restore energy balance and promote healing (Mayor, 2007).

Dry needling, however, is based on Western medical science and focuses on relieving pain and muscle dysfunction. It targets trigger points - tense muscle areas causing pain and movement limitation. Needle insertion here is believed to release muscle tension and aid relaxation (Simons, Travell, & Simons, 1999).

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for anyone considering these therapies. Let's delve into the specifics of dry needling and acupuncture and how they can be beneficial.

Principles of Dry Needling

Dry needling targets painful muscle knots or trigger points to alleviate tension and improve muscle function. Inserting needles into these points causes microtrauma, stimulating the body's healing response, increasing blood flow, and promoting tissue repair (Dommerholt, Bron, & Franssen, 2006).

This technique is used in treating conditions like back pain, neck pain, and sports injuries, proving effective in muscle relaxation and pain reduction.  The goal is to alleviate pain and restore normal muscle function, making it a valuable tool in comprehensive physical therapy programs.

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Dry needling is very effective in treating and relieving muscle pains.

Principles of Acupuncture

In contrast, acupuncture, as per traditional Chinese medicine, views health through the lens of energy flow or Qi along the meridians of the body. Inserting needles into these meridian points aims to correct imbalances in this flow, thereby promoting overall well-being. The practice believes in the interconnection of the body's systems and uses over 2,000 points to influence this energy flow for various health benefits (Deadman, Al-Khafaji, & Baker, 2007).

Acupuncture needles are finer and their placement is more diverse, catering to a wide array of conditions, from chronic pain to emotional and digestive disorders.

Comparing Dry Needling and Acupuncture

While both use needles, dry needling is grounded in Western medical science, targeting muscular trigger points for pain relief. Acupuncture, on the other hand, is rooted in TCM and focuses on energy flow along meridians.

The training for each practice also differs. Dry needling is usually performed by healthcare professionals with specialized training, whereas acupuncture is typically done by practitioners trained in TCM.

Applications and Benefits

Dry needling excels in treating physical pain and improving muscle function. It is also found to be beneficial in conditions like headaches and TMJ disorders. Beyond pain relief, it enhances overall muscle performance, making it a favored choice in sports medicine and physical therapy.

Acupuncture's benefits, however, are more varied, addressing not just physical but also mental health issues like stress and anxiety. Its application is broad, encompassing pain management, digestive health, and even fertility treatments.

Key Differences and Training

The major difference between these two techniques lies in their foundational theories: dry needling's focus on physical muscle relief and acupuncture’s holistic approach to balancing body energy. This distinction extends to the training of practitioners. Dry needling is often practiced by physical therapists and other healthcare professionals as well as acupuncturists, whereas acupuncture is performed by practitioners extensively trained in traditional Chinese medicine.

Safety and Efficacy

Both practices are deemed safe when performed by trained and licensed professionals. It is vital for patients to disclose their complete health history to avoid any complications. While some might experience mild soreness post-treatment, severe side effects are rare.

Choosing the Right Treatment

Your choice between dry needling and acupuncture should align with your specific health needs and goals. For musculoskeletal issues, dry needling might be more appropriate, while for a holistic health approach, acupuncture could be more beneficial.

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Finding the right practitioner for your needs is crucial. Summit Acupuncture offers both dry needling as well as traditional acupuncture.

Finding a Qualified Practitioner

Selecting the right practitioner is crucial. Ensure they are licensed and trained in their respective fields. Recommendations from healthcare providers or personal networks can also be valuable. When selecting a practitioner, research their credentials, seek recommendations, and ensure they make you feel comfortable and confident in their care. Ultimately, the practitioner should make you feel comfortable and confident in their approach.

In conclusion, while dry needling and acupuncture use similar tools, their philosophies, techniques, and applications differ greatly. Understanding these distinctions is key to choosing the right therapy for your specific health needs. Whichever you choose, ensure it aligns with your overall health goals and is performed by a qualified professional.


Mayor, D. (2007). Acupuncture and the meridian system: Historical and theoretical pathways. Journal of Acupuncture.

Simons, D. G., Travell, J. G., & Simons, L. S. (1999). Travell & Simons' Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.

Dommerholt, J., Bron, C., & Franssen, J. (2006). Myofascial trigger points: An evidence-informed review. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy.

Dommerholt, J., & Fernández-de-las-Peñas, C. (2019). Trigger Point Dry Needling: An Evidence and Clinical-Based Approach.

Deadman, P., Al-Khafaji, M., & Baker, K. (2007). A Manual of Acupuncture.

Mayor, D. (2007). Electroacupuncture: A Practical Manual and Resource.


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