Dry Needling OR Acupuncture? What are they and how do they work?

What is the difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture??


Frequently in the clinic we use techniques such as dry needling to treat muscle spasm, release trigger points in order to reduce pain and improve our clients’ function and productivity.


There is a difference between dry needling and acupuncture - but often we find these terms are used interchangeably bringing about confusion about what is what and how they differ.



First, acupuncture, a form traditional Chinese Medicine which originated from the belief that someone’s health is a reflection of the flow of energy within their body, referred to as “chi.” There are believed to be several energy pathways within the human body. Blockages in these pathways present themselves in the body as pain, illness, stress and tension - to name a few. Chinese therapists have identified points of “chi” within the body. These points correlate to places where acupuncture needles are placed to improve or re-direct energy flow in order to relieve symptoms of pain or tension. Acupuncture points are not always in the location at which you feel pain, a key difference to dry needling.



Acupuncture is commonly used in chinese medicine to treat digestive issues, stress, insomnia, and chronic pain. Needles are inserted and often left in the body for 15-30 minutes at a time. The needles may initially cause the patient to experience a slight dull ache or heavy sensation around the needle, termed “deqi”.


Dry needling on the other hand is used to treat muscular and myofascial (tissue surrounding muscles and connecting tissues) pain and dysfunction. It is termed dry needling as there is no substance injected into the tissue. It is an effective treatment technique used to relax overactive muscle with trigger points or “knots” but can also be used to help activate resting muscles. When used to inactivate trigger points the needle is inserted into the tightly contracted knot - often the site where you are feeling pain - unlike acupuncture. The sensation evoked by dry needling is comparably stronger to that of acupuncture, with the patient often experiencing a twitching or cramping sensation, or reproduce the pain they complain of, however they may still experience a similar sensation to “deqi.” Clinical research has shown that reproduction of symptoms or achieving “deqi” during dry needling leads to greater results.



How does dry needling work?

There are several concepts surrounding how in fact dry needling works in order to relieve patients symptoms. When used in the treatment of trigger points, dry needling is said to work through neural mechanisms, chemical reactions and changes in blood flow. Some of the effects include

  • Release of opioids - which act as the bodies natural source of morphine

  • Endorphin release

  • Neural inhibition - restricting flow of pain messages to and from tissues, spinal cord and brain

  • Local twitch causing changes in blood flow, removal of irritating chemicals from the area.

Dry needling is not for everyone - there are often people who respond quite strongly to their use whilst others have a very mild change in symptoms. In general most clients report symptoms improving a few days following treatment, whilst some also report immediate relief. Clients may also experience a sense of fatigue following treatment, this a good indication treatment is successful.

Dry needling is a common and effective tool used in our clinic. So if you are feeling achy and tender, have restricted movement, and palpable knots it may be a sign you have some trigger points and dry needling may help you! Click here to book online.

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Aspire Physiotherapy

18 Partridge Street Glenelg

8376 8816

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Aspire Physiotherapy SA

18 Partridge St Glenelg, Adelaide, SA 5045

8376 8816

Fax: +61 8 8219 0061

admin@aspirephysiotherapysa.com.au

Open 6 days - M-F 8:30am-6pm, Sat 8.30am-1pm

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