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Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: Which Is Right for You?

Is dry needling the same thing as acupuncture?

If you only compared dry needling and acupuncture with a photo, you might be stumped to identify each. Both acupuncture and dry needling use thin, stainless steel needles. For both practices, needles are inserted into the skin and both also claim to treat pain.


That’s where the similarities end.

Unique qualities help differentiate the two!


One practice has been used for thousands of years as an alternative treatment and has some solid research of effectiveness. The other’s been adopted in the last couple of decades.

One is designed to relieve pain, discomfort, or issues by opening up a person’s energy flow or chi.

The other is designed to stimulate trigger points, or muscles that are irritable.

Knowing the differences can help you decide which type of treatment is right for you, our head myotherapist Jayden believes if you suffer from a lot more muscular pain then he would recommend Dry Needling.


What is dry needling?

Dry needling is a treatment technique designed to ease muscular pain. Its popularity is growing throughout elite athletes, crossfit games, AFL and the olympics.

During dry needling, a practitioner inserts several needles into your skin which can be more superficial. Needles are fine, short, stainless steel needles that don’t inject fluid into the body. That’s why the term “dry” is used, it isn't like a blood test although patients may think otherwise!

Practitioners place the needles in “trigger points” in your muscle or tissue.

The points are areas of knotted or hard muscle, which can be felt by sense of touch another reason why dry needling is gaining more traction.

Jayden our Myotherapist from Burwood East say the needles help release the knot and relieve any muscle pain or spasms. The needles will remain in your skin for a short period of time. The length of time depends on the practitioner.

Evidence has shown me that the time doesn't matter it's more so releasing the trigger points, "I believe that leaving the needles in for 30 seconds or 30 minutes can give the same response if the correct muscle knots have been released".


Some healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists and massage therapists, receive some training in dry needling, this can vary from practitioner but can lead up to 1 year of training.


In-and-out techniques

Some forms of dry needling use techniques called pecking. This technique rely on in-and-out needle insertion. In other words, the needles don’t stay inserted in the skin for long. The needles prick the trigger points and are then removed.

More research is needed to support this method of dry needling.


Non-trigger point technique

Some dry needling techniques treat a broader landscape of the central nervous system. This is called non-trigger point treatment. Instead of inserting needles only in the area of pain, the practitioner may instead insert needles in areas around the point of pain instead of directly on it.

This technique relies on the idea that pain is the result of a greater nerve or muscular issue, not just focused in the main area of pain. Further some practitioners may attach a TENS machine around the area to stimulate or relax the area further!


Dry needling in practice

Dry needling is most often performed by physical and sports injury therapists. Currently, dry needling practitioners don’t need extensive training. No regulatory agency controls training, licensure, or supervision for this procedure, unless you are practicing in the US.

Because there’s no credentialing board, there’s also no way to determine if someone’s training is legitimate and satisfactory. If you choose dry needling, find someone with postgraduate healthcare education, such as a physical therapist.

What are the benefits of dry needling?

Dry needling may provide relief for some muscular pain and stiffness. In addition, easing the trigger points may improve flexibility and increase range of motion. That’s why this method is often used to treat sports injuries, muscle pain, and even fibromyalgia pain.

Though it doesn’t currently have guidelines for practice, safe dry needling practices will be standardized as more research becomes available.


What does research say about dry needling?

Research supporting the use of dry needling is limited. Most of the existing research for dry needling supports the practice for relieving mild to moderate pain.

In some studies, dry needling provided more relief than a placebo treatment. However, one study showed that dry needling is no more effective than stretching alone to relieve muscle pain.

Are there side effects or risks to dry needling?

Mild side effects are very common with dry needling but serious side effects are rare.

The most common side effects around the injection site include:

bruising, bleeding and temporary soreness.

If non-sterile needles are used, you may be at risk for contracting bloodborne illnesses, infection, and diseases.

Be sure your practitioner uses sterile needles and disposes of them after each use.

Since dry needling doesn’t have formal training, certifications, or state licensure, there are more concerns about use than with acupuncture.

Although at MyoActive Myotherapy we only use each needle once and have proper sanitized techniques.

Dry needling vs. acupuncture for osteoarthritis

Both acupuncture and dry needling are used to treat osteoarthritis. In particular, research shows acupuncture and dry needling are particularly useful for the treatment of knee pain caused by the arthritis condition.

For the treatment of knee and hip osteoarthritis, non-trigger point dry needling is more effective than traditional dry needling alone. A 2014 review found that dry needling in muscles and tissues around the pain point reduces pain and sensitivity more than needling just in the pain point.

This dry needling strategy is more similar to acupuncture in that it treats a larger area of muscles and nerves. Trigger point dry needling focuses entirely on the point of pain.


The bottom line

If you’re weighing acupuncture or dry needling as a treatment option, the choice may come down to a matter of preference.

Acupuncture currently has more definitive research and practitioners are regulated in training and practice. If you prefer a well-established alternative treatment option from a highly-trained therapist, acupuncture may be more beneficial for you.

Dry needling is rather new, so research remains limited.

Existing research shows very few side effects and potential as a treatment for pain relief.

Still, large-scale studies are lacking.


However, if you’re willing to try something that’s less established with fewer governing principles but promising results, you may be willing to try dry needling.

Our head Myotherapist has seen amazing results within one dry needling session consisting of reduced headaches, migraines, elbow pain, knee pain, foot pain, back pain, as well as an improvement in overall range of motion instantly!


Don't suffer in pain and try something new, if what you are doing now isn't working contact us today!

A technique called Dry Needling by one of our Myotherapists



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