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Dry Needling vs Acupuncture: Learn The Difference!

‘ACUS’, a Latin word that means ‘NEEDLE’ & ‘PUNCTURE’ meaning ‘TO PUNCTURE’. If skin-piercing by a needle is acupuncture then dry needling can also be termed acupuncture, but here is a different case. Dry needling and acupuncture are very different treatments though they both use the same needles. Today we are going to discuss ‘dry needling vs acupuncture ‘.

Before we discuss dry needling vs acupuncture separately and understand both along with their pros and cons, have a look at the key difference between them.

Dry needling vs Acupuncture: The Key Difference

Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of alternative medicine. In this, needles are inserted into the skin at certain points to produce therapeutic effects. This practice of acupuncture has many different methods. Two main approaches are widely used in the west, Traditional and western.

TRADITIONAL ACUPUNCTURE has its origin in ancient Chinese philosophy. It has been a fundamental discipline of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for about 2500years. Traditional acupuncture has a unique concept of disease pathophysiology. It postulates the flowing of qi, a kind of energy through a system of meridians as the basis of good health. This focuses on restoring the qi by needling at different depths and at strategic points on the body.

DRY NEEDLING, also known as western acupuncture does not involve the concept of qi or meridians. It has adapted from traditional acupuncture but still has its own theoretical concepts, terminology, needling procedure, & therapeutic application. It has based on the understanding of human anatomy, physiology, and pathology. Dry needling lays emphasis on the concept of trigger points. In this, needles are inserted in the trigger points to produce the clinical effect.

Traditional acupuncture is based on the concept of qi and meridians whereas, in dry needing, needle is inserted in the trigger points.


In dry needling, the practitioner inserts the dry needle (no medication or injection) into the trigger points. It focuses on stimulating a specific trigger point that is leading to pain and disability. A myofascial trigger point consists of multiple contraction knots, which are related to the production and maintenance of the pain cycle.

  • The needle is inserted into the body, gently manipulated, and removed after a short period. Then this process is repeated several times.
  • In this, certain neuromuscular issues are treated that are causing pain and hindering mobility.
  • Needles release tension, inflammation, or pressure at specific trigger points.
trigger points

In which situations do we use dry needling?

Patients who have neuromuscular disorders, pain syndromes, and movement impairments can benefit from this.

  • muscle tightness,
  • contusions,
  • inflammation,
  • deficit microcirculation,
  • strains,
  • sprains,
  • swelling reduction, &
  • pain modulation etc.

Physical effects of dry needling

  1. RELAXES MUSCULAR PAIN– Dry needling stimulates the muscles and leads to the reduction in pain and inflammation.
  2. ACTIVATES BODY MOTION– It is very helpful when it comes to improving range of motion by reducing muscle spasms and hence reducing pain.
  3. REDUCE MUSCLE STIFFNESS- Trigger points create knots that cause stiffness. It can be resolved with dry needling.
  4. ENHANCES OXYGEN AND BLOOD FLOW- Tight muscles restrict the flow of blood and oxygen that can be cured through needling.
  5. FAST RECOVERY– It helps speed up the healing process, leading to a shorter recovery process.

Side effects of dry needling

In the majority of the cases, there are no side effects if done carefully.

  1. Bleeding
  2. Bruising
  3. Fainting, is uncommon however, it could occur during the first session
  4. Needle shock– It is a vaso vagal response. There may be light-headedness, cold perspiration, nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, or vomiting. Furthermore, the skin may turn pale and the pulse may become irregular.
  5. Drowsiness– some patients may feel very relaxed and even sleepy after treatment.
  6. Broken needle
  7. Stuck needle
  8. Risk of transmission of the blood-borne virus (BBV)


As we discussed earlier, acupuncture is intended to unblock energy meridians or channels and help create balance within the bodily systems. These meridians are related to each organ in your body and energy flows through these pathways.

In this needles are left in the body for some time and are inserted into established meridian points on the body.

Where do we use Acupuncture?

  • Aids in treating insomnia
  • Reduces heartburn and indigestion
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • In treating migraine, headache, and neck pain
  • Improve hormonal balance
  • Gives relief from nausea and vomiting
  • Painful periods
  • Morning sickness
  • Dysentery
  • Whooping cough
  • Vascular dementia

The WHO also suggested its use in urinary tract infections and epidemic hemorrhagic fever.

Benefits of acupuncture

  • Provides relief
  • Relaxes and energizes patients after treatment
  • Relieve pain effectively
  • Lowers adverse effects on the human body
  • Supports healthy blood sugar levels
  • It May help in urinary incontinence

Disadvantages of acupuncture

  • Organ rupture may occur by needles.
  • Infection through needles
  • Not recommended for persons with bleeding disorders
  • Not able to detect certain diseases

Safety measures for dry needling and acupuncture:

  • Single-use, pre-sterilized, disposable solid needles must be used.
  • Don’t use needles with damaged packing.
  • The practitioner must insert the needle with hygiene and safety.
  • The skin at the needle site should be clean with disinfectant.
  • Use a fresh needle for needling every point.
  • Don’t touch the shaft of the needles with bare hands or with non-sterile materials.
  • The practitioner should wear disposable gloves while handling the patient


The needles used in these treatments are very fine. Nowadays, the use of stainless steel needles is common. They are impossible to break, very flexible, and will not rust.

These needles are very different from hypodermic needles. Hypodermics are hollow and thick needles. For rapid delivery of liquids in the body, we use hypodermic needles. Acupuncture needles are solid and have a very sharp point hence they don’t cause more pain.

It depends upon the size and the area of the body. On fleshy areas such as the buttocks, the needles may go deeper to at least one and a half inches. At non-fleshy parts, they penetrate to only about one-tenth of an inch.

It is extremely unusual for these needles to draw any blood during the treatment. People often expect that any penetration of the skin will lead to bleeding, but these needles are so fine.

Rarely a small drop of blood may appear and can cause a bruise.

This is the most common question as everyone is anxious about pain. But these needles don’t cause pain as such. Many patients who have undergone this treatment say that needles don’t bother them. All they feel is a mild sensation that is not that much painful or irritating. But this may vary from person to person.


Today, we have discussed ‘dry needling vs acupuncture. Dry needling and acupuncture may seem similar but the mechanism of action behind them are poles apart. Both work in different ways.

Traditional acupuncture or acupuncture works on the concept of qi or chi and thought this qi (a form of energy) runs through the meridians or channels in the body.


Western acupuncture or dry needling has its unique theory. They work on trigger points and try to ease bodily functions by resolving trigger points.

Thank you for reading this so far. Hope you get your doubts clear. If you still have any queries, you can mail us at