Which Is Better Dry Needling or Acupuncture?

Reviewed on 1/21/2021

Pain is something that no one wants to have but gets it without asking.
Pain is something that no one wants to have but gets it without asking.

Pain is something that no one wants to have but gets it without asking. This age-old saying about pain has always been apt and shall always be. Pain is an unpleasant sensation that makes people realize that something is wrong in their bodies. This symptom makes most people seek medical help. Several therapeutic strategies have been developed, and many more are evolving to control pain associated with medical conditions. Acupuncture and dry needling are two such forms of alternative therapies that primarily target alleviating pain. Both techniques use thin needles for treatment, but they are not the same in all aspects.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a traditional form of therapy that originated in China around 100 BC. It involves the insertion of thin needles at multiple locations into the skin. The points of needle insertion vary according to the patient’s symptoms. The needles are inserted along certain invisible lines called meridians, which the doctors are trained to identify. The needles may be turned by the acupuncturist for providing adequate benefits. Acupuncture is based on the belief that “life forces” or “energies,” which is called chi, flows along the meridians. It is believed that diseases occur whenever there are disturbances in the flow of chi along the meridians. This disturbed energy balance is corrected by acupuncture, which is believed to release healing energy in the body. In eastern medicine, acupuncture may be used for treating various conditions, such as:

In western medicine, however, acupuncture is mainly done for pain management. The American Medical Association has recognized acupuncture as a form of medical therapy. The American Society of Acupuncturists also provides guidelines for getting treatment through acupuncture and East Asian Medicine (EAM) in the United States. The acupuncturists need to get education and training for getting a license to practice in the United States. Some of the insurance companies in the United States may provide for the cost of acupuncture.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is similar to acupuncture since it uses thin needles for the treatment of pain. The term “dry” has been added to differentiate it from hypodermic injections that use “wet” medicine. Though the therapy uses needles, it is a painless and relatively safe procedure when done by an experienced and certified practitioner. Unlike acupuncture, dry needling is not based on the principles of “chi” and “meridians.” Furthermore, it originated a few decades back in the west unlike acupuncture, which is more ancient and eastern in origin. Dry needling involves the insertion of thin needles at the “trigger points” or muscle knots. These points are considered to be the source of pain and discomfort. The technique is based on the belief that inserting the needle at the trigger points relaxes the inflamed muscle and reduces the pain. This also causes improved blood flow, reduces stiffness, and improves the movement at the affected joint.


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Which is better dry needling or acupuncture?

Both dry needling and acupuncture use similar techniques. Acupuncture is way older than dry needling and has several studies to support its safety and benefits. When done by a qualified practitioner under safety precautions, both techniques may provide comparable benefits. Acupuncturists, however, need to have a license to practice in the United States. Most of the acupuncture therapies that may cost a lot are covered by several American insurance companies. This is not the case with dry needling. According to the practitioners of modern medicine, it is always better to get yourself examined by a board-certified doctor and take their opinion before going for any of the alternative therapies. Though these procedures may relieve pain, they usually do not provide lasting relief. Furthermore, though symptoms may be controlled, the underlying disease may progress making definitive treatment difficult. Though seemingly safe, both dry needling and acupuncture may lead to complications when not done under experienced hands following infection-control precautions. The complications may include bleeding, pain, infection, and if the needle goes too deep, pneumothorax (presence of air between the lungs and the chest wall).

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Kellington R. Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture? Acupuncture Canada. https://www.acupuncturecanada.org/blog/dry-needling-vs-acupuncture/

McIntyre A. Dry Needling Is Acupuncture, but Acupuncture Is Not Dry Needling. Washington East Asian Medicine Association. https://www.asacu.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Dry-Needling-is-Acupuncture-McIntyre-A.pdf

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