How Dry Needling is Different from Acupuncture


Written on
March 25, 2024
Dr. Don C. Dequine Jr. PT, DPT, CSCS

After encouraging patients to try Dry Needling as a tool to reduce pain and promote tissue healing, 100 out of 100 times they ask “Is it the same as acupuncture?” My response “The short answer is no, but yes! Kind of..” Read below as I unpack this confusing response.

Is Dry Needling the same as acupuncture: “No, yes, kind of…”


I am far from an expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TDC), but I know that they go to school for a long time and have multiple concluding exams for accreditation. I have also had acupuncture and it WORKED! My life was stressful, and sleep was rare as my mind would race. So, I laid down, closed my eyes, and my sister-in-law poked with what I thought was a million needles. While I laid there, I eventually dozed off to sleep, and that night, I slept like a baby.

** The Philosophy: Simply, we are one with the universe, and a vital force known as Qi surges through our bodies. When the Qi is “out of balance,” disease, illness, and pain ensue. Acupuncture is one of many tools which “realigns” the Qi. It has been used for nearly 2000 years and has changed very little. For more information read: “The Web that has no Weaver” by Ted Kaptchuk O.M.D.

** The Mechanics: Needles are inserted, fairly shallow, into “non-scientific” meridians. “Non-scientific” = Knowledge of human anatomy is not necessary.

** The Outcome = Not immediate nor expected to be. It could take some time.

Dry Needling:

Like every other Western-based healthcare provider, this is much more my speed, as it should be. As a physical therapist, it is required that we have evidence that proves our treatment. Although there are thousands of legitimate acupuncture success stories and research articles, Qi channels have yet to be seen. In Western medicine “believing is seeing”.

** The Physiology: Needles are inserted into muscles, tendons, connective tissue, scar tissue, perineural (next to nerves), and cartilage to promote blood flow. This revitalized blood brings pain reducers such as, but not limited to Opioids, Serotonin, and Norepinephrine to the area. Also released is a cascade of tissue healing agents, which helps aidin' tissue remodeling. For a deep dive, read Raymond Butts article HERE

** The Mechanics: Depends on the provider’s education, however, these techniques are most used: Threading - the needle is directly put in and out of the trigger point. Fanning - the needle “searches” for trigger points while in the muscle. Multiple needles - with or without E-stim, are inserted into muscle, ligament, tendon, or cartilage for up to 20 minutes. Click HERE for an explanation of each technique.

*** Way too much information that could be a blurb somewhere***: AAMT - American Academy of Manipulative Therapy tends to use multiple needles in both trigger points and surrounding Acupoints that can stay up to 20 minutes. IAMT - Institute of Advanced Musculoskeletal Treatments heavily treats trigger points with techniques that move the needle in and out of the muscle belly. ICE - Institute of Clinical Excellence will use multiple needles with E-stim to excite signals to the brain to promote tissue healing. (More information HERE)

Explore Dry Needling at Freedom Here