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Dry Needling vs Acupuncture

Dry Needling vs Acupuncture?

Dry needling and acupuncture are two different forms of treatment that are used to alleviate pain and muscle tension. Dry needling is a form of treatment that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body, called trigger points. This technique is often used in combination with other physical therapy techniques to alleviate pain and muscle tension.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique that involves inserting needles into specific points on the body, called acupoints. This technique is used to balance the flow of energy (or “qi”) and promote healing.

Both dry needling and acupuncture share similarities, such as the use of thin acupuncture needles, but they differ in their approach, techniques, and the conditions they treat. While dry needling is typically performed by physical therapists or other healthcare professionals with experience in the technique, acupuncture is typically performed by licensed acupuncturists.

The purpose of this article is to provide an in-depth comparison of dry needling and acupuncture, including their techniques, conditions treated, effectiveness, safety, and risks. By understanding the similarities and differences between these two techniques, one can make an informed decision about which treatment may be best for their specific needs.

Comparison of Dry Needling and Acupuncture

For many people, the terms “acupuncture” and “dry needling” are used interchangeably. While they may have similarities, they are actually two different forms of treatment that have distinct differences.

Let’s explore five of the main distinctions between dry needling vs acupuncture needles to help you decide which one is best for you.


The history behind each practice is one key difference between these two treatments. Acupuncture has been around for centuries as a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with an emphasis on holistic healing, while dry needling is a modern Western medical technique with a focus on treating physical dysfunction and pain.


The way in which practitioners use each treatment also varies significantly. Acupuncturists insert very thin needles into specific points on the body based on their knowledge from TCM to stimulate energy flow within the body, whereas dry needlers use thicker needles that target trigger points within muscles to relieve tension and decrease pain.

Time Frame

A single session of acupuncture typically lasts between 30 minutes to 1 hour since it involves more than just needle insertion but also includes additional massage techniques and lifestyle advice, whereas a dry needling session can be shorter since it focuses solely on inserting needles into trigger points and releasing muscle tension.

Theory Behind Treatment

Both treatments aim to improve physical well-being but do so in different ways. Acupuncture relies heavily on its theoretical foundations in TCM, where energy flow needs to be balanced both inside and outside the body before health can be restored.

However, dry needling is based more on anatomic science, where practitioners rely on research-based evidence regarding muscle anatomy and its relation to pain management.

Diagnosis & Treatment Plan

Diagnosis for acupuncture involves determining any imbalances in internal organ systems based on the patient’s symptoms and tongue/pulse pattern assessment results.

However, diagnosis for dry needling requires careful palpation of muscles by practitioners. They use their hands or special tools such as electrical stimulator devices to detect trigger points within muscles.

These trigger points may require further intervention with needle insertion. This is done by applying pressure with practitioners’ fingers or thumbs onto those areas until they release the tension held within them. The tension is caused by irritation caused by trauma (physical or emotional).

Dry Needling Vs Acupuncture For Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain, affecting millions of people. For those who suffer from this condition, finding relief can be a priority.

While there are many treatments available, two popular options are dry needling and acupuncture. But which one is right for you?

Let’s take a look at how these two treatments compare to help you make an informed decision about your plantar fasciitis treatment.

Dry Needling vs Acupuncture for Plantar Fasciitis Treatment

Both dry needling and acupuncture are needle-based therapies that involve inserting very thin needles into specific points in the body in order to relieve pain and promote healing.

The main difference between both procedures is that dry needling is based on human anatomy and neurophysiological principles, whereas traditional acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine. 

Both therapies aim to restore balance to the body by targeting trigger points—areas of tightness or tenderness—which can help reduce inflammation and improve function.

Dry needling is usually used to treat conditions like plantar fasciitis because it has a more direct and targeted approach than traditional acupuncture.

The needles used in dry needling are inserted directly into the trigger points of the muscle tissue, which helps release tension and deactivate trigger points in the muscle. This can reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and alleviate pain associated with plantar Fasciitis.

Acupuncture works by stimulating certain points on the body with needles which then release endorphins—a hormone responsible for reducing stress levels and helping to create a sense of relaxation—and also helps to increase blood flow.

This increase in blood flow helps bring oxygenated blood to areas that might not be receiving it due to injury or illness, which can help speed up recovery time as well as reduce pain levels associated with plantar fasciitis.

Additionally, acupuncture also aims to restore balance within the body’s energy systems which can have positive effects on overall well-being.

Dry Needling vs Acupuncture for Sciatica

Sciatica is a painful condition that can affect people of all ages. It is characterized by pain shooting down the back of the leg, often caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.

While most people find relief through lifestyle changes and physical therapy, some may require more intensive treatments like dry needling or acupuncture to reduce their symptoms. So, which treatment is best for sciatica?

Let’s take a look at how these two therapies compare when it comes to treating this condition.

The Research on Dry Needling vs Acupuncture for Sciatica

When it comes to researching the effectiveness of different treatments for sciatica, there are only a few studies that have looked at dry needling versus acupuncture specifically.

However, there are several studies that suggest both therapies can be effective in reducing sciatica-related pain. For example, one study found that combining dry needling and acupuncture was more effective than either treatment alone at alleviating sciatica symptoms. Therapists at Turning Point use a combination of dry needling and acupuncture to help you achieve the best possible and quicker results.

Other research also suggests that both forms of therapy can help improve the range of motion and reduce muscle spasms associated with sciatica.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Dry Needling vs Acupuncture for Sciatica

One advantage of dry needling over acupuncture is that it can provide fast relief from pain during an acute episode of sciatica due to its ability to target trigger points in muscles directly.

Another benefit is that it requires fewer sessions than acupuncture since needle placement is more targeted and specific.

However, the downside to dry needling is that it may not be as helpful in managing long-term chronic pain associated with conditions like sciatica compared to other treatments such as acupuncture or physical therapy exercises.

On the other hand, acupuncture has been shown to help relieve chronic pain more effectively than dry needling in some cases due to its ability to regulate hormones and stimulate healing throughout the entire body.

Additionally, unlike with dry needling, no needles are inserted into sensitive areas such as near nerves or tendons during an acupuncture session which may make it more comfortable for patients who experience high levels of anxiety or fear when undergoing invasive procedures.

The main downside to this form of therapy, though, is that results may take longer than other treatments, and multiple sessions are typically needed before any improvement is noticeable.

Which Option Is Better For Sciatica?

Ultimately, both options have their pros and cons when it comes to treating sciatica, and many factors will play into which option works best for each individual patient.

Dry needling is a good option for people who have recently injured a muscle or joint and are experiencing intense pain.

It helps to quickly relieve pain by targeting specific areas called trigger points while avoiding sensitive areas like nerves or tendons. This can be especially helpful for people who are anxious about injections or invasive procedures.

On the other hand, if someone has been suffering from chronic discomfort due to long-term conditions such as degenerative disc disease, then acupuncture might be better suited as this technique helps regulate hormones throughout your body, helping promote healing over time rather than providing temporary relief through targeting certain trigger points only.


There are several key differences between dry needling and acupuncture, including who provides each treatment, what type of needles are used, how long each session lasts, and their respective approaches toward treating various conditions.

Ultimately, whether you choose one or both treatments depends on your individual needs as well as your comfort level with needles. Get in touch with our team at Turning Point Physical Therapy to speak to a physical therapist about what would be the best approach for you.

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