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It’s common for people to feel confused about the differences between dry needling and acupuncture, often leading to comparisons between the two practices. Many individuals find it difficult to decide to choose one over the other.


Acupuncture, an integral component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dates back thousands of years as a holistic healthcare system. TCM, a comprehensive approach to wellness, encompasses methods aimed at prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of ailments. Central to TCM philosophy is the concept of qi, the body’s vital energy, believed to flow along specific meridians. Balanced qi signifies overall well-being, encompassing spiritual, emotional, and physical health, while imbalances may lead to illnesses. Blockages in qi can disrupt the equilibrium between yin and yang, opposing yet interconnected principles in Chinese philosophy. TCM employs diverse strategies to restore harmony between yin and yang, including acupuncture. Acupuncturists identify over 2,000 acupuncture points interconnected by meridians, utilizing this technique to alleviate blocked or stagnant qi, thus facilitating its free flow and enhancing health. Acupuncture entails inserting fine needles into specific points along meridians, with subsequent activation by manual manipulation or electrical stimulation by the practitioner.

Dry needling 

‘Dry needling’ involves the insertion of thin monofilament needles, similar to those utilized in acupuncture, without injection. This technique is frequently utilized in the treatment of muscles, ligaments, tendons, subcutaneous fascia, scar tissue, peripheral nerves, and neurovascular bundles to address various neuromusculoskeletal pain syndromes. Importantly, the definition of dry needling has undergone refinement by organizations like the National Physical Therapy Association and several State Boards of Physical Therapy. According to their updated specifications, dry needling is specifically defined as the insertion of needles into nodules within taut bands of muscle, commonly referred to as ‘trigger points’ or ‘myofascial trigger points’ (MTrPs).


Dry needling offers several potential benefits for individuals experiencing musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction:

Pain Relief

One of the primary benefits of dry needling is pain relief. By targeting trigger points and releasing tension in muscles, dry needling can help alleviate acute and chronic pain conditions such as muscle strains, tension headaches, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain.

Improved Range of Motion

Tight muscles and trigger points can restrict movement and flexibility. Dry needling helps release muscle tension, allowing for improved range of motion and flexibility in the affected area. This can be particularly beneficial for athletes or individuals recovering from injuries.

Muscle Relaxation

 Dry needling promotes muscle relaxation by stimulating the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals produced by the body. This relaxation can help reduce muscle spasms and stiffness, allowing for greater comfort and mobility.

Enhanced Healing

 By increasing blood flow to the targeted area, dry needling can facilitate the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to injured tissues, thereby promoting faster healing and recovery. It can also help break up scar tissue and adhesions, which can inhibit movement and contribute to chronic pain.

Complementary Treatment

 Dry needling can be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for musculoskeletal conditions, complementing other therapies such as physical therapy and exercise. It can help address underlying muscle imbalances and dysfunctions, leading to more effective overall treatment outcomes.

Reduced Dependence on Medications

 For individuals who prefer to avoid or minimize the use of medications for pain management, dry needling offers a drug-free alternative. By targeting the root cause of pain and dysfunction, it can help reduce the need for pain medications and their associated side effects.

Improved Quality of Life 

Chronic pain and musculoskeletal dysfunction can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, limiting their ability to perform daily activities and participate in leisure or recreational activities. By providing effective pain relief and improving mobility, dry needling can help enhance overall quality of life and well-being.


Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medical practice, offers numerous potential benefits for both physical and mental health.

Pain Relief

Acupuncture is well-known for its ability to alleviate pain, both acute and chronic. It is often used to manage conditions such as back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, migraines, and menstrual cramps. Acupuncture can help reduce inflammation, release endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), and regulate the nervous system’s pain response.

Stress Reduction and Relaxation

Acupuncture sessions are typically relaxing experiences for many individuals. The insertion of needles at specific points on the body can help regulate the body’s stress response, promote relaxation, and reduce feelings of anxiety and tension. Some people also report improvements in sleep quality after acupuncture treatment

Improved Mood and Mental Health

Acupuncture has been shown to have positive effects on mood and mental well-being. It can help regulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mood regulation. Acupuncture is often used as a complementary therapy for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Enhanced Immune Function

 Acupuncture is believed to support the body’s immune system by promoting the flow of Qi (vital energy) and balancing the body’s internal systems. Regular acupuncture treatments may help strengthen the immune response and reduce the risk of illness and infection.

Better Digestive Health

Acupuncture can help regulate digestive function and alleviate symptoms of gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, bloating, and constipation. By balancing the body’s energy flow and reducing stress, acupuncture may improve digestion and nutrient absorption.

Hormonal Balance

Acupuncture may help regulate hormonal imbalances in the body, making it beneficial for conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, menopausal symptoms, and menstrual irregularities. It can help regulate menstrual cycles, improve ovarian function, and reduce symptoms associated with hormonal fluctuations.

Support for Chronic Conditions

Acupuncture can provide relief and support for various chronic conditions, including autoimmune disorders, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and neuropathic pain. While it may not cure these conditions, acupuncture can help manage symptoms and improve overall quality of life.

Complementary Cancer Care

Acupuncture is often used as a complementary therapy for cancer patients to manage treatment side effects such as nausea, pain, fatigue, and neuropathy. It can help improve overall well-being and quality of life during cancer treatment.


Dry needling


Before performing dry needling, the practitioner typically conducts a thorough assessment of the patient’s musculoskeletal system. This may involve identifying areas of pain, muscle tightness, restricted movement, or trigger points.

Locating Trigger Points

Trigger points are areas of tight muscle fibers that can cause pain and dysfunction. The practitioner locates these points by palpating the muscles and asking the patient about areas of pain or tenderness.

Insertion of Needles

Once the trigger points are identified, the practitioner inserts thin, solid needles directly into the skin and muscle at these points. The needles used in dry needling are similar to those used in acupuncture but are typically thicker and may be manipulated differently.


After insertion, the needles may be manipulated by the practitioner, often with gentle movements or twitches, to stimulate the trigger point. This can help release tension in the muscle and alleviate pain.

Response and Monitoring

Patients may experience various sensations during dry needling, including a dull ache, tingling, or a muscle twitch. The practitioner monitors the patient’s response and adjusts the treatment as needed.


After the dry needling session, patients are usually advised to rest and drink plenty of water. Some practitioners may also recommend specific exercises or stretches to complement the treatment and prevent further muscle tension.


Consultation and Assessment

Before starting acupuncture treatment, the acupuncturist conducts a thorough consultation and assessment with the patient. This may involve discussing the patient’s medical history, current symptoms, lifestyle, and any specific health goals.

Point Selection

Based on the assessment, the acupuncturist selects the acupuncture points to target during the session. Acupuncture points are located along pathways called meridians, which are believed to be channels through which Qi (pronounced “chee”), or vital energy, flows.

Needle Insertion

The acupuncturist inserts thin, sterile needles into the selected acupuncture points on the patient’s body. The needles are typically made of stainless steel and are extremely thin, ranging from 0.12 to 0.35 millimeters in diameter. The depth of insertion varies depending on the location of the acupuncture point and the condition being treated.

Needle Manipulation

After the needles are inserted, the acupuncturist may gently manipulate them by twirling, rotating, or stimulating them with a slight up-and-down movement. This manipulation is believed to enhance the therapeutic effects of acupuncture by promoting the flow of Qi and facilitating the body’s natural healing processes.

Needle Retention

Once the needles are in place, the patient typically remains in a relaxed position for a certain period, typically ranging from 15 to 30 minutes. During this time, the patient may experience sensations such as warmth, tingling, or a dull ache at the acupuncture points.

Removal of Needles

After the designated period of needle retention, the acupuncturist removes the needles carefully and safely. The needles are disposed of in accordance with medical waste regulations.

Follow-Up and Recommendations

 Depending on the patient’s response to treatment, the acupuncturist may recommend a series of acupuncture sessions to achieve optimal results.


Dry needling performed by a physiotherapist concentrates on treating musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions directly related to pain, movement, and function. Although acupuncturists may receive additional training in MSK conditions, their practice tends to be broader, potentially resulting in less specialized experience in addressing MSK issues compared to physical therapists.


A physiotherapist, specializing in musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, incorporates dry needling as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This plan may encompass various interventions such as joint mobilizations, neuromuscular reeducation, postural education, as well as strength, mobility, and flexibility exercises. In contrast, an acupuncturist’s approach might differ, focusing less on these specific components of MSK treatment and more on adjunctive therapies like recommending herbal supplements or dietary changes to support the healing process.


Which is better for you?


For musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries, seeking treatment from a specialized MSK practitioner such as physiotherapy who offers a multifaceted approach to address your pain and movement condition is often recommended. These professionals are trained to provide comprehensive care tailored to MSK issues. In cases where the injury appears to involve non-MSK components, consulting a medical doctor (MD) first would be prudent. This ensures a thorough evaluation and appropriate management plan, potentially involving a multidisciplinary approach if necessary.


In conclusion, if you’re dealing with a musculoskeletal (MSK) injury, seeking assistance from a qualified physiotherapist who is trained in dry needling can be beneficial. Synapse Physiotherapy is a reputable option that offers this service. Physiotherapists are skilled in providing a multifaceted approach to MSK injury treatment, and dry needling can be an effective component of their treatment plans. However, it’s essential to ensure that the physiotherapist you choose is appropriately qualified and experienced in dry needling techniques to optimize your recovery and rehabilitation process.

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