Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice which involves inserting fine needles to stimulate and balance the flow of Qi throughout the body. Dry needling is based on western philosophies and is often associated with trigger points, tight muscles and stimulating tissue repair at a local level.


How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that has been refined over thousands of years. According to Traditional Chinese medicine the proper flow of Qi through the body’s meridians are essential for good health. By inserting needles into specific locations around the body acupuncturists are able to restore a balanced flow of Qi and promote the body’s natural healing processes.

Western interpretation of acupuncture would suggest that the acupuncture needles cause an irritation at the location of the needle stimulating the neural pathways. This stimulation at a local level can cause increased blood supply to the area, regulate inflammation, modulate a localised immune response, release endorphins and stimulate dopaminergic pathways for pain relief. Acupuncture’s effects are also global, meaning that needles do not need to be inserted into the painful or irritating area to have the desired effect. By following carefully mapped out meridians an acupuncture needle in the hand can be used to treat conditions such as headaches, intestinal discomfort or stress related conditions. Acupuncture needles are often left in place for up to 60 minutes.

Acupuncture, while effective in its own right, is often combined with other traditional chinese modalities such as cupping, moxibustion, electro-acupuncture and TCM remedial massage, applying techniques to specific trigger points or meridians.

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Acupuncture can be used to treat:

  • Headaches
  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sinus issues
  • Hormonal issues
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety
  • Digestive issues

How does dry needling work?

There are many different dry needling techniques, some are based on releasing trigger points where a needle is inserted into an active trigger point. This causes the muscle to spasm or twitch, releasing the trigger point and allowing the muscle to return to its normal resting length.

Dry needling for the treatment of scar tissue and tendinopathies

Dry needling can be used to help break up scar tissue and cause an inflammatory response in that muscle/tendon and stimulate the body to repair itself. A similar approach can be used in tendinopathies where repetitive needling causes an inflammatory response in the tendon, thereby stimulating a healing response.

Are the needles for acupuncture and dry needling the same?

Dry needling and acupuncture use similar needles. Both use single use, sterile, monofilament needles that are safely disposed of in a sharp container after using. Depending on the goal of the treatment there may be different needles used. An acupuncturist may use thinner needles for some treatments that don’t require as much stimulation. Some needles such as press needles are so small they hardly get through the dermis layer of the skin and may stay in place for extended periods. Often the needles used in dry needling may be a little thicker/less likely to bend if they are used for techniques such as pecking where a muscle or tendon may be repeatedly stimulated/pecked.

Does acupuncture and dry needling cause pain?

The amount of pain or discomfort resulting from dry needling or acupuncture can vary. Some patients will describe the needles like a slight tap, with a mild humming sensation as the needle stays in place. Other more aggressive forms of dry needling, such as in the cases of scar tissue or pecking tendinopathies may result in more inflammation and a feeling not unsimilar to DOMS after a gym session. Occasionally dry needling may cause some discomfort when working around sensitive areas. Generally acupuncture is less likely to cause any discomfort, however in all forms of needling a therapist can help reduce the discomfort.

Techniques such as using thinner needles or using a more acupuncture style of treatment where they are left in place, rather than repeatedly repositioned can help reduce the pain felt.

Which is better: acupuncture or dry needling?

When deciding what would be more effective between acupuncture or dry needling it is important to consider what you are trying to achieve with the treatment. Acupuncture is often the preferred treatment modality when dealing with systemic issues such as hormonal issues, stress/anxiety disorders, digestive issues, sinus issues or insomnia. When dealing with musculoskeletal issues such as chronic pains, low back pain, headaches, tennis elbow or arthritis both acupuncture and dry needling can be effective. Both acupuncture and dry needling are used to treat osteoarthritis.

Often when choosing between acupuncture and dry needling it will often come down to a personal preference. Acupuncture is often a more gentle treatment where dry needling can be a little intense and is more likely to leave you with post treatment pain.

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