The Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture

Written by Maggie Nolan


Dry Needling Therapy Versus Acupuncture, What’s the Difference?

I have been in the practice of using dry needling for 3 years now. I find it to be the most effective tool I have used in my clinic and as a remedial massage therapist for 25 years. The use of an acupuncture needle is used to treat myofascial trigger points, hence the confusion I see with some clients that have previously experienced acupuncture.

The purpose of this article is to address the confusion and to differentiate difference between dry needling and acupuncture.

Dry Needling is a focused treatment for myofascial trigger points. Myofascial trigger points, are taut band in muscle tissues that can cause pain and mostly limited restrict range of movement in a particular part of the body, i.e. shoulder, hip, knee, lumber back etc.  When we experience restriction, we experience less mobility in our daily activities causing discomfort and pain.

To apply dry needling, a practitioner needs to be skilled in locating a myofascial trigger point or taut band in muscle tissues, as this skill relies on manual palpation onto the body. Remedial Massage therapist as well as all manual therapists are trained extensively in these areas.

Dry Needling is defined as rapid, short/term needling. An acupuncture needle is inserted into a Myofascial trigger point and left for 5 to 7 minutes, then removed and manual therapy or massage if applied. Dry needling helps to alter the integrity of dysfunctional tissues in order to improve or restore function. This may include but is not limited to myofascial trigger points, periosteum & connective tissues.

Whereas, acupuncture is based on treating general health conditions, and targets energy lines called Meridians.  An acupuncturists is fully trained in this skill. Acupuncturists use a variety of different examination skills that are specific to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as pulse & tongue examination, and manual therapy of palpation is not within the scope of an acupuncturist. Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific acupuncture points along the skin of the body involving various methods such as penetration by thin needles or the application of heat, pressure, or laser light.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that acupuncture is used to treat over forty different medical conditions, including allergies, respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, gynecological problems, nervous conditions, and disorders of the eyes, nose and throat, and childhood illnesses, among others. Acupuncture is also used in the treatment of alcoholism & substance abuse. It is also used to treat headaches and chronic pain, associated with problems like back injuries and arthritis.

So, therefore the techniques are very different, the aim is different & the procedure prior to the application of the skill or intervention is completely different.

In good health,

Maggie Nolan

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