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Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture

Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture

There is often a lot of questions and confusion about the differences between dry needling and acupuncture. Dry needling is an evidence-based technique applied by physical therapists that releases myofascial trigger points and muscular tightness. Dry needling is similar regarding the needle is inserted into the skin to alleviate pain. However, acupuncture treats for the purpose of altering the flow of Qi (Energy) along traditional Chinese meridians. Physical therapists use dry needling with the purposes of addressing neuromuscular conditions, the relief of pain/ muscular tightness, and improving range of motion.

What is a myofascial trigger point?

A myofascial trigger point also known as a knot within the muscle is a bundle of muscle fibres that have shortened when activated but have not been able to lengthen back to a relaxed state after use. (Simons, Travell & Simons, 1999).

What causes these myofascial trigger points?

Injury (muscles will tighten attempting to reduce severity of injuries)

Unexpected movements of the body

Quick movements

Change in regular exercise routine (an increase or decrease in regular physical activity)

Sustained postures (extended sitting for study or work)

Impingement of nerves (muscles will tighten attempting to protect the nerve)


Nutritional deficiencies (such as magnesium)

(Simons, et al., 1999)

How does Dry needling work?

Single use sterile filament needles (acupuncture needles) are inserted into the trigger point that causes a neurological response within the muscle fibres. This reaction allows the muscle to release and relax which helps reduce pain and encouraging and improving the recovery process.

Dry needling can help treat:

Headaches in relation to muscular tension

Tendinopathy including hamstring tendinopathy, Achilles, or tennis elbow

Sciatica and gluteal pain

General muscular tightness/tension

Lower back pain

Neck pain


Sporting injuries