In short, dry needling and acupuncture are not the same. However, since the same fine needles are used in both treatments, the confusion is understandable but there are many differences.
Dry needling is comparatively new. It is based on the theory that when trigger points develop in muscles, they lead to neuromuscular dysfunction. This can result in pain, decreased function and increased stress on surrounding structures. The fine needles are used to elicit a twitch response to release the trigger point and restore normal function to the muscle. They also may stimulate the healing process of muscles, tendons and ligaments. It can produce quite a strong sensation, usually resulting in a twitch and/or crampy sensation.
Acupuncture involves needles being inserted at certain acupuncture points. These are mostly found along meridian lines which represent organs of the body. Needles are inserted up to 30 minutes. Acupuncture is subtle, gentle and is usually used in chronic or ongoing pain cases. It may also be used more for internal treatments – complaints like digestive issues, stress, insomnia, sub-fertility, or to boost immunity. The needles sometimes elicit a slight dull or achy sensation on insertion. This quickly goes away and the treatment is generally relaxing.
It is not a case that one is better than the other. A patient’s complaint at any given moment in time may determine which to use. Both treatments relieve pain, promote healing and restore function.