Dry Needling Vs. Acupuncture

Dry Needling Vs. Acupuncture: Which Is Right For Me?

At a first glance, dry needling and acupuncture may look like the same procedure. Both involve puncturing the skin with needles for therapeutic purposes. However, surface level similarities aside, the procedures have very little in common. While there is some overlap in terms of what dry needling and acupuncture treat, your individual needs will determine dry needling vs. accupunture and which procedure is right for you.

The main difference between dry needling and acupuncture is that dry needling focuses on releasing trigger points by inserting needles directly into those trigger points in the muscles, while acupuncture is thought to work by stimulating nerves that are linked to various functions in the central nervous system and other parts of the body. The philosophy of both differ quite significantly as well. Dry needling is based on Western Medicine and was created as recently as the 1980s. Acupuncture, in comparison, is an ancient Asian therapy based on the belief of meridian lines and the flow of energy through the body. Both have clinical evidence of efficacy for the treatment of pain and inflammation. If you are considering either procedure, below we will break down the key differences to help you determine which treatment path is right for you.

Dry Needling & Acupuncture: The Basics

Dry Needling

The popularity of dry needling has grown considerably in recent years. Dry needling uses filiform needles to release pain. These are very fine, short stainless steel needles that do not release anything into the body, hence the name dry needling.

During dry needling, your practitioner targets trigger points in your muscle tissue, usually focusing on knots or hard muscles. This both relieves muscle pain and tension and treats issues such as muscle spasms.

There are two different dry needling techniques: in-and-out and non-trigger point.


Also called pistoning or sparrow pecking, this technique involves quickly inserting and removing needles at trigger points.

Non-Trigger Point

The non-trigger point technique differs from in-and-out in that it focuses on a broader landscape, often targeting needles around the pain point rather than directly on it. As with the in-and-out technique, the needles only briefly stay in the skin.

Acupuncture: The Basics

Acupuncture is a much older technique that has been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Asian medical practices. Acupuncture also uses thin, short needles, but the needles stay in the skin longer, sometimes up to 20 minutes.

Acupuncture works by opening up a person’s energy flow, or Chi, by the strategic placement of needles in the body. Modern data supports a very complex mechanism of action for acupuncture involving activation of cells locally in the needle insertion site and in the central nervous system, as well as the release of many pain inhibiting molecules. This helps block pain caused by injury and inflammation. Acupuncture seems to have significantly broader impact outside of just pain management. The mechanisms of which are currently still poorly understood.

While dry needling exclusively focuses on pain relief, acupuncture is intended for many different purposes. It can address muscle aches and pains, but also headaches and migraines, nausea, vomiting, menstrual cramping, and more. Some proponents believe acupuncture can help with psychological issues like depression and it has even been used to treat addiction and substance abuse disorders.

Dry Needling Vs. Acupuncture: Key Differences

To summarize, the key differences between acupuncture and dry needling are:

  • Needles stay in place longer with acupuncture
  • Dry needling exclusively treats pain, while acupuncture treats a variety of issues, including psychological conditions
  • Dry needling is a relatively new procedure, while acupuncture has been around for thousands of years
  • Dry needling focuses on pain points, knots, and muscles while acupuncture focuses on the Chinese concept of Chi or the flow of energy inside the body

Which Is Right For Me?

There are some issues that can be addressed via acupuncture that cannot be addressed via dry needling such as headaches, nausea, and even menstrual cramps and labor pains. There is also some clinical evidence that acupuncture helps with migraines, arthritis, and depression.

Muscle pain, soreness, and stiffness can be addressed by both dry needling and acupuncture. Dry needling is used to treat pain in specific areas and is sometimes used in physical therapy or sports injury therapy. Those with pain concentrated in one part of the body may benefit more from dry needling, whereas general pain, soreness, and stiffness may be better addressed via acupuncture.

The best way to determine acupuncture vs. dry needling which is right for you is to book a consultation with a professional. At CORR, we have a team of in-house acupuncturists who can help you decide whether acupuncture is right for you and develop a tailored treatment plan to address your individual needs.

Dry Needling Vs. Acupuncture: The Bottom Line

Dry needling vs. acupuncture, both can help address a variety of chronic conditions. While the procedures appear similar on the surface, they are actually very different therapeutically. Therefore, it is important to take time to consider your needs before deciding on one treatment over another.

A careful evaluation of the issues you’re hoping to address and a consultation with a qualified professional can help you get started. With time, research, and guidance, dry needling vs. acupuncture, both and can potentially relieve a variety of chronic conditions and improve your quality of life.