Dry Needling vs Acupuncture

In the realm of alternative therapies, dry needling and acupuncture are two widely-used practices that involve the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body. While both methods employ the use of needles, they have distinct origins, techniques, and applications.

Understanding the differences and similarities between these techniques is essential for individuals seeking the most appropriate medical treatment for their specific needs. Learn which is right for you here. Together, we will unravel the mysteries of dry needling and acupuncture, by shedding light on their unique characteristics and exploring the underlying principles that guide their practice.

What is Dry Needling vs Acupuncture?

Whether you’re seeking relief from musculoskeletal pain or exploring complementary treatments for overall wellness, understanding the distinctions between dry needling and acupuncture is crucial in making an informed decision.


Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It has been used for thousands of years to promote healing and balance within the body. Acupuncturists believe that the body contains energy channels, or meridians, through which vital energy, known as Qi, flows.

It considers factors such as Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, and the flow of Qi and blood. By inserting fine needles at specific points along these meridians, acupuncturists aim to restore the balanced energy flow of Qi and promote health and well-being.

With this technique, acupuncture enhances blood flow, which can accelerate healing and reduce inflammation by promoting the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to various parts of the body. Additionally, it has been scientifically validated to release natural painkillers like endorphins and serotonin in the brain, enhancing both physical and emotional well-being.

Acupuncture treatments are tailored to each individual’s medical conditions and unique patterns of disharmony and aim to address not only the symptoms but also the underlying root causes of the imbalances.

Dry Needling

Dry needling, on the other hand, is a relatively modern treatment technique that originated in the 20th century. It is primarily based on Western anatomical and neurophysiological principles. Dry needling targets trigger points, which are localised areas of pain and muscle tension, or hyperirritability. By inserting thin needles directly into these trigger points, practitioners seek to alleviate pain and improve muscle function.

Dry needling focuses on the musculoskeletal system and is most often used as part of physical therapy and rehabilitation programs. The goal is to release tension and improve the function of muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues. It is called “dry” needling to distinguish it from “wet” needling, which involves injecting substances like medications or anaesthetics.

Similarities Between Dry Needling vs Acupuncture

Despite their differences in origin and technique, dry needling and acupuncture share some commonalities:

  • Needle insertion: Both acupuncture techniques involve the insertion of fine sterile needles into the body, although the depth, angle, and insertion techniques may vary.
  • Therapeutic effects: Both dry needling and acupuncture aim to promote healing and alleviate physical pain, and discomfort in the body.

How is Acupuncture Different From Dry Needling?

While dry needling and acupuncture share similarities, several key differences set them apart.

Theory and Philosophy

Acupuncture is based on the TCM concept of Qi, meridians, and balancing the flow of energy. In contrast, unlike acupuncture, dry needling is grounded in Western medical principles, focusing on musculoskeletal and neurological systems.

Acupuncture theory encompasses a complex framework that takes into account the interplay of various factors such as Yin and Yang, Qi, and the Five Elements. It views health and illness as a result of imbalances or blockages in the flow of healing energy. Acupuncturists aim to relieve pain, restore balance and promote the body’s innate healing abilities.

In dry needling, the focus is on addressing muscular trigger points to relieve muscle pain and improve musculoskeletal function. It is based on the understanding of anatomy, neurophysiology, and the role of trigger points in pain generation and muscle dysfunction. The goal is to release tension, decrease pain, reduce muscle pain itself, and improve muscle function by targeting specific areas of the body.

Needle Insertion Points

Acupuncture utilizes specific pressure points along the body’s meridians to stimulate the central nervous system, whereas dry needling will target trigger points in muscles or other soft tissues.

Acupuncture points are selected based on the individual’s pattern of disharmony, symptoms, and diagnostic findings. These points are often located along meridians, which are pathways through which Qi flows. The selection of points per acupuncture session takes into account the specific meridians involved and their relationship to the individual’s condition.

Dry needling focuses on identifying and targeting trigger points within muscles, tendons, or other soft tissues. Trigger points are localized areas of hyperirritability that are often associated with taut bands in the muscle. The selection of trigger points is based on the individual’s pain patterns, muscle dysfunction, and the presence of palpable nodules or tight bands.

Needle Depth

Acupuncture often involves shallow needle insertions, while dry needling may involve deeper insertions, targeting specific muscles or tissues.

Acupuncture needles are typically inserted at varying depths, depending on the location of the acupuncture point locations, the individual’s constitution, and the desired therapeutic effect. In some cases, the needles may be inserted just below the skin, while in others, they may be inserted deeper into muscle layers.

Dry needling techniques often involve deeper needle insertions, targeting specific trigger points within muscles, tendons, or other soft tissues to treat pain or unlock muscles. The depth of insertion is determined by the location and depth of the trigger point and the desired therapeutic effect. Deeper insertions are often used to access trigger points located deeper within muscles.

Needle Manipulation

In acupuncture, needle manipulation techniques are used to enhance the therapeutic effects. These techniques can include gentle rotation, lifting, or a technique known as “connecting the needle” to facilitate the movement of Qi. The specific manipulations used depend on the individual’s condition and the desired treatment outcome.

Dry needling, on the other hand, typically does not involve needle manipulation. The needles are inserted into the trigger points and left in place for a specific duration to allow for the release of tension and the stimulation of muscle fibres. In some cases, practitioners may use slight movements or twitches to elicit a local twitch response in the muscle, which is believed to help relieve trigger point activity.


Acupuncture and dry needling are performed by different types of professionals who have distinct training and qualifications. When it comes to acupuncture, individuals must be a trained and licensed acupuncturist to perform this type of therapy. These professionals have undergone extensive training in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In many countries, becoming a licensed acupuncturist requires completing a rigorous educational program at an accredited institution. This typically involves several years of study, including both theoretical and clinical training.

On the other hand, in many places, physical therapists and other more specialised medical professionals such as sports injury therapists and chiropractors and osteopaths are the primary practitioners who perform dry needling. They use this technique as part of a broader physical therapy treatment plan. Physical therapists typically receive specific postgraduate training in dry needling after completing their degree in physical therapy. It is not often you will find a standard alone dry needling therapist.

Acupuncturists usually undergo more extensive and specialized training in their field compared to the minimal training used for dry needling received by physical therapists and other health professionals. Acupuncture training covers a wide range of medical theories, diagnostics, and treatment strategies under the umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine, whereas dry needling training is typically shorter and focused specifically on musculoskeletal issues.

Choose Acupuncture for:

  • Holistic Health Improvement: Acupuncture excels as a holistic approach that goes beyond addressing isolated symptoms. It enhances overall well-being by restoring balance to the body’s energy (Qi), making it suitable for treating a wide array of conditions from physical to psychological.
  • Chronic and Diverse Conditions: Acupuncture has a proven track record with a broad range of chronic issues including stress, migraines, digestive problems, and more, providing a versatile treatment option not limited to muscle-related pain.
  • Root Cause Treatment: Unlike dry needling, which primarily targets specific areas of muscle tension, acupuncture looks at the underlying causes of discomfort or illness, offering more comprehensive and enduring relief.
  • Cultural and Historical Richness: As a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine practiced for thousands of years, acupuncture brings a depth of cultural and historical context that enhances its credibility and appeal.
  • Integrative Therapy: Acupuncture can be seamlessly integrated with other treatments, both modern and traditional, offering a complementary approach that can enhance the efficacy of other medical interventions.

Consider Dry Needling for:

  • Immediate Muscle Relief: Dry needling can be effective for quick relief from specific muscular pain and knots, making it a practical short-term solution for acute muscular issues.
  • Specific Muscular Issues: Dry needling is primarily effective for treating specific muscle pain, tightness, and spasms. It targets myofascial trigger points, which are tight knots within the muscle fibres that can cause pain over a large area.

Acupuncture provides a broader, more integrated, and historically rich approach to health and wellness, making it an appealing choice for those looking for a comprehensive treatment strategy. It encourages a balance not just within the body physically, but also emotionally and energetically, which can lead to profound health benefits beyond the scope of what dry needling offers.

Not sure which is right for you? Get in touch with the team at The Acupuncture Oasis, and let us know what you are struggling with. We will suggest the most appropriate treatment for you. We look forward to helping you achieve your optimal health.