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Dry Needling | Physical Therapy

Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: Which Treatment Is Right For You?

April 27th, 2022 | 4 min. read

Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: Which Treatment Is Right For You?
Mason McAnnally

Mason McAnnally

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // Dry Needling Certified // Titleist Performance Institute Certified // Director of Player Development, EW Golf // EW Motion Therapy Homewood // EW Motion Therapy Trussville

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If you have pain or muscle tension, you may be considering some kind of needling treatment. Maybe you need dry needling, in which a practitioner inserts monofilaments (solid needles) into muscle trigger points and uses electrical stimulation to provide relief. Or perhaps you need acupuncture, a part of traditional Chinese medicine, which uses energy lines called meridians. Meridians are guides to releasing a flow of energy throughout the body, based on organ systems, like the kidney, liver, and heart. By correcting energy flow systemically, pain is reduced. But how do you know which one you need? 


It is essential to choose the proper treatment to get the relief you need. Many of our physical therapists at EW Motion Therapy are dry needling certified, and we provide the service as a part of treatment for our physical therapy patients when applicable, as well as offering stand-alone sessions. Our ultimate goal for this article is to educate you on the differences between dry needling and acupuncture so you get the treatment you need, even if you choose not to pursue service with us. 


This article discusses the similarities and differences between dry needling and acupuncture, and situations in which one treatment might be more effective than the other. With this information, you can feel confident making a decision between the two. 



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How are they similar? 

Both dry needling and acupuncture use monofilament needles, and the goal of both treatments is usually to reduce pain. Some of the responses from the needles can be similar, in that both activate your central nervous system and provide a change in sensation, hopefully for the positive. Pain can occur during either procedure but your specialist will go over the types of pain you should alert them to. Additionally, both dry needling and acupuncture can be effective in reducing chronic pain symptoms.


Along with these similarities come some differences between the two practices. Let’s investigate them.


How are they different? 

Acupuncture and dry needling are different in a few ways. Rather than using meridians, dry needling focuses on specific muscles or tendons for a very localized response. Dry needling is a deeper treatment as well, going all the way down into the muscle. In dry needling, you might see a twitch response from the needle hitting the trigger point, especially when electrical stimulation is paired with a needle, which is another factor that sets dry needling apart. 


Dry needling typically uses fewer needles than acupuncture does, and dry needles are usually left in for a shorter period of time, but it ultimately depends on the practitioner. Rather than an overall reduction of pain by treating a system with acupuncture, the goal of dry needling usually depends on the muscle being affected and the kind of change you are trying to make. 


When is one more effective than the other? 

Now you know more about dry needling and acupuncture, and you may be considering which treatment you should pursue. If you are targeting symptoms of muscle dysfunction, dry needling might be better for you, since the needle goes all the way down into the muscle itself. For example, if a trigger point in your shoulder continues to spasm and cause you pain, dry needling (and electrical stimulation, if necessary) can reset that muscle response. But, if you are looking for a more natural solution of symptoms related to systemic conditions, like nausea, dizziness, or allergies, acupuncture has worked for many clients in treating all of these, and might be worth a try. Either treatment could be helpful for chronic pain, but it depends on where the pain is coming from - if the pain is localized to your shoulder, dry needling might be more directed. 


Our dry needling-certified physical therapists at EW Motion Therapy are up-to-date on the latest needling practices, and can effectively utilize the treatment to help you move and feel better. If you are interested in dry needling with us, fill out the Request an Appointment form on our website, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps. 


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