Acupuncture vs. Physical Therapy Dry Needling: Which One Is Right For You?

Does dry needling resemble acupuncture?

You might struggle to distinguish dry needling from acupuncture if you compare them with just a picture. Both physical therapy dry needling and acupuncture use thin stainless steel needles. Both practices use needles that are inserted into the skin.

Here’s where similarities end. These two practices are distinguished by their unique characteristics. The one that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years has solid research backing its effectiveness. In the past few decades, the other has been popularized.

The one that uses needles to place needles in certain points of the body is thought to alleviate pain, discomfort, and other issues. The other is used to stimulate trigger points or muscles that are irritable.

Understanding the differences can help determine which treatment is best for you.

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What’s dry needling?

Dry needling is a modern method to relieve muscular pain. It is gaining popularity.

A practitioner will insert several filiform needles under your skin during dry needling. Filiform needles, which are stainless steel needles made of fine, small, and non-injectable needles, are not meant to inject fluid into the skin. This is why “dry” is used.

The needles are placed in the trigger points of your tissue or muscle by practitioners. Dry needling can also be called intramuscular stimulation. These are areas of hard or knotted muscle.

The needle is used by dry needling practitioners to release knots and ease muscle spasms or pain. The needles will stay on your skin for a brief period. The practitioner will determine the length of the stay.

Some healthcare professionals such as physical therapists receive training in dry needling. The length of the training may vary. You should keep in mind that dry needling is not regulated by the government.

AAPAS recommends that dry needling practitioners have the same training requirements and oversight as acupuncturists because of safety concerns.

Physical therapists, on the other hand, say dry needling is a completely different technique than acupuncture.

These discussions are ongoing. As new legal decisions are made, state laws that govern dry needling could change.

Learn More about Dry Needling & Physical Therapy 

In-and-out techniques

Physical Therapy dry needling can also use methods such as sparrow pecking and pistoning. Both these methods rely on needle insertion in and out. The needles won’t stay in place for very long.

The needles are used to pierce the trigger points. This method of dry needling requires more research.

Non-trigger point technique

Dry needling can be used to treat an even larger area of the central nervous system. This is known as a non-trigger point treatment. Instead of inserting needles directly into the pain area, the practitioner might instead place needles around the pain point.

This method relies on the belief that pain can be caused by a greater nerve issue or muscular problem than the pain being felt in the area.

Physical Therapy Dry needling in practice

Physical and sports injury therapists are the most common ones to perform dry needling. No formal training is required. No regulatory agency oversees the training, licensing, or supervision of the procedure.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), dry needling is considered an invasive procedure. According to the AMA, dry needling should only be performed by licensed practitioners who have received specialized training in safe needle usage. This includes doctors and Acupuncturists.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) states that most U.S. states allow dry needling by physical therapists. There are however a few states that don’t allow dry needling.

It is important to remember that no regulation exists to determine whether a practitioner is qualified or trained to perform the procedure.

There is no credentialing board so it’s impossible to tell if someone’s training was legitimate and satisfactory.

What are some of the benefits of dry needling?

Dry needling can be used to relieve some muscle stiffness and pain. The trigger points can also be lowered to improve flexibility and range of motion. This is why it’s often used to treat muscle pain, sports injuries, and even fibromyalgia.

>>> Dry Needling Pin Point Relief for Muscle Pain

Oakland, CA Pain Management Clinic

Dr. Ben Bagge

Pro+Kinetix Physical Therapy & Performance

"We Help Active Adults & Athletes Get Back To Workouts and Sports They Enjoy without surgery, stopping activities they love, or relying on pain medicine."
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