Clinician inserts long, filiform needles into specific points along your body to help reduce pain, increase motor function, and/or improve your overall health. Are we describing acupuncture, or dry needling? Can’t tell? Well don’t be surprised, most people don’t understand the difference. When broken down to the basics, it can be difficult to understand the difference between Acupuncture and Dry Needling. It’s not helped by the fact that both techniques involve the use of sterile needles to stimulate points throughout the body. On the surface the methods are quite similar, but each approach is unique in practice. So when you scratch the surface and look deeper, you’ll discover the two techniques have some significant differences. Let’s explore it further.


Acupuncture Origins

Acupuncture was developed from Traditional Chinese Medical concepts. The acupuncture needles stimulate certain meridian lines along the body to restore and promote “energetic balance”. This was later developed into Western or Medical Acupuncture, following the same techniques but applied to western medical reasoning.

Determining if Acupuncture is Right For You

Acupuncture treatment does not require a medical diagnosis to determine if acupuncture is a suitable treatment for your condition. There is no medical examination required, nor a referral from any medical doctor.

Moreover, depending on the practitioner, acupuncture may be employed to treat almost any medical ailment. Joint pain, muscular pain, obesity, impotence, diabetes, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, and fatigue are all within the scope of what acupuncture is used to treat. Keep in mind this is a very short sample list; some practitioners can and will attempt to treat any ailment with acupuncture.

Acupuncture Treatment and Technique

There is no set treatment technique when it comes to acupuncture. While the general mechanics are the same — inserting needles into specific meridian spots along the body — the exact placement, and which meridian points are even used, can vary widely between practitioners. Different teachers of acupuncture will develop different methodologies that they believe generate the best results, meaning two acupuncturists offering the same service might perform very different treatments.

Measuring Success of Acupuncture Treatment

The only measure of success in acupuncture is the subjective reporting of pain or symptoms by the patient. There are no other checks required in acupuncture to measure the efficacy of the treatment. If a patient says they feel less pain, then the treatment is a success. Some practitioners will measure other factors, but this is not a requisite in acupuncture.

Dry Needling

Dry Needling Origins

Dry needling began with the use of hypodermic needles and is a therapeutic intervention based on anatomy and neurophysiology. It was developed using evidence-based trial and error to aid in the healing of altered or dysfunctional tissues in the body.

Determining if Dry Needling is Right For You

Dry needling is always preceded with a medical evaluation from a qualified health professional. Like any other medical treatment, it will only be prescribed if it’s determined that dry needling is a beneficial treatment for a condition.

Dry needling is only employed to treat neuromusculoskeletal ailments (problems primarily relating to some manner of muscular dysfunction and its effects on the body). Conditions treated by dry needling include (but are not limited to) repetitive stress injuries, muscle tendonitis, neck pain, headaches, knee osteoarthritis, rotator cuff impingement, frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome, and muscle strains.

You will never be prescribed dry needling for weight management, depression, or other conditions unrelated to the neuromusculoskeletal system.

Dry Needling Treatment and Technique

With dry needling, the technique is standardized across practitioners. A physical therapist performing dry needling in Alaska should be performing the same treatment as one in New York. While there will always be nuances in the skill and experience of the individual practitioners, the same steps will be taken to treat the same conditions even by different people.

Measuring Success of Dry Needling Treatment

A physical therapist must track several metrics to assess a patient’s progress during dry needling treatment. Range of motion, strength, balance, and coordination are just some of the things a physical therapist will monitor and measure. Without these metrics, true, objective progress cannot be determined.

So as we said at the beginning; on the surface, acupuncture and dry needling are very similar treatments. Looking a little closer, it’s obvious the mechanisms are similar, but the application and approach is very different. If you’re interested in dry needling, or just finding out more, contact our team today at Northern Edge Physical Therapy.

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Owner/Physical Therapist at Northern Edge Physical Therapy

Dr. Keith Poorbaugh has completed specialty certifications, internships and a residency fellowship to develop mastery of manual therapy skills and clinical expertise. Throughout 20 years of clinical experience, he has discovered that clients consistently heal faster when the provider is both compassionate and skilled.