Acupuncture vs. Dry Needling: What’s the Difference?

October 21, 2020 | Physiotherapy, Wellness

Rehabilitation professionals utilize different skills and techniques to help their patients recover from injury and reach their activity goals. You may be wondering whether acupuncture or dry needling could be a beneficial part of your recovery plan. But how do these two approaches compare?

The Needles 

The primary similarity between acupuncture and dry needling has to do with the tools that are utilized. Thin, solid, stainless steel needles of varying length and slightly varying thickness are used. Also, both acupuncture and dry needling use sterile, one-time-use/disposable needles. 

The origins of dry-needling and acupuncture 

Acupuncture is based on eastern medical philosophy called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and has been around for over two thousand years. It’s a broad field, and TCM Acupuncturists treat many different diseases and conditions. Rehabilitation professionals typically focus more narrowly in an area called neuro-anatomical acupuncture, which is more of a western medicine approach. The goal is to address the symptoms present in either acute or chronic pain conditions. 


Dry Needling

Dry needling has been around for a few decades. Dry refers to the fact the needles are solid, as compared to hypodermic injection needles which are called ‘wet’. A needle penetrates the skin and stimulates underlying myofascial trigger points, muscular and connective tissues. Dry needling involves some ‘pistoning’ of the needle which means once the needle is inserted through the skin it’s moved into and out of the layers of soft tissue underneath. Occasionally, there is temporary soreness afterwards. Benefits include the relief of muscle pain and stiffness, which can lead to improved range of motion, flexibility, and overall function. It can also stimulate the body’s healing response. 


During an acupuncture treatment, the needles are inserted into anatomical or TCM points and remain there for a period of time before being removed. Acupuncture points may be located near the area of complaint, or could also be in various areas throughout the body, along what are called meridians. Benefits include pain relief, increased circulation, and stimulation of the body’s healing response. 


Choosing the right care for you

No matter which form of needling is used, it is typically only one part of an evidence-informed approach to patient care. A comprehensive treatment plan which may also include manual therapy and exercise prescription can be even more effective. At CURAVITA Health Group, both dry needling and acupuncture can be performed by our Physiotherapist. Feel free to ask your healthcare professional whether dry needling or acupuncture would be a good addition to your care plan. 

To book an appointment with our physiotherapist – contact us at 613.860.8600 for our Byward location and 613.237.9000 for our Glebe location.