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Dry needling vs Acupuncture

I often get the question "what is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?" I wanted to take a few minutes to explain the difference to you.



As we know, acupuncture has been around for well over 3000 years. Dry needling has been around for many fewer years. It has only been around since about 1940's. Acupuncture treats a big range of health issues. It is done with a 0.16mm gauge needle. If you aren't familiar with gauge sizes, that is smaller than a cats whisker!! Acupuncture needles are placed in very specific points to treat a number of health conditions.

Dry needling was originally done with empty hypodermic needles; hence the name dry needling. Today, it is done with acupuncture needles. It is specifically for musculoskeletal conditions, which is why many physical therapists and chiropractors use "dry needling". Many times, these practitioners will claim it is not the same as acupuncture because dry needling is not based on traditional Chinese medicine. With that being said, dry needling is a well known and practiced modality that is recognized by the World Health Organization and is recognized as a subtype of acupuncture.


Dry needling is widely recognized as an invasive procedure. Several national acupuncture associations and organizations, as well as the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and the American Medical Association, have voiced strong concern about patient safety. In 2011, The American Association of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine issued the following Position Statement:


The U.S. Department of Education recognizes ACAOM as the sole accrediting agency for Acupuncture training institutions as well as their Master’s and Doctoral Degree programs. Training in Acupuncture, which has been rigorously refined over the course of hundreds of years internationally and forty years domestically, is well established and designed to support safe and effective practice. Attempts to circumvent Acupuncture training standards, licensing or regulatory laws by administratively re-titling acupuncture as “dry needling” or any other name is confusing to the public, misleading and creates a significant endangerment to public welfare.


My personal opinion on dry needling vs acupuncture:

  1. Also research your practitioner, no matter what service you are receiving.

  2. Does dry needling work? Absolutely! if it didn't, no one would be using it.

  3. Is it the same thing? As an acupuncturist, if you come see me with musculoskeletal pain, I am going to put needles in the are that is hurting along with other places that I know will relief the pain. The points I studied for two years in school and continue to study. Dry needling is going to do the same thing; put needling in the area that hurts minus the others that will continue to work.

  4. Which should you do? If you have been a client of mine, you know I am all about patient advocacy. You know I am all about personal choice. With an full acupuncture treatment, you can treat the whole body. With dry needling, you treat only the areas of pain. So choice is yours!

Hopefully this clears up some confusion on what is what. As always, if you have any questions, please let me know!

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