The Definitive Guide To Dry Needling


Dry needling vs acupuncture—what’s the difference?

Dry needling and acupuncture both use thin, stainless steel needles to treat people, so the difference can be confusing. The main difference between dry needling and acupuncture is the underlying philosophy. Acupuncture aims to relieve an imbalance is a person’s Qi—a life force within the body that flows along 12 to 14 pathways (meridians). By treating this imbalance, acupuncture aims to relieve pain, discomfort, or other issues. Dry needling, on the other hand, aims to stimulate trigger points and irritated muscles in the body, without the underlying idea of Qi.

Trigger point injections vs dry needling

Trigger point injections are the process of injecting a local anesthetic or saline into one of the body’s trigger points, as a way to offer pain relief. There’s currently no substantial evidence to confirm their effectiveness when compared to dry needling.4

Dry needling benefits

Dry needling can provide relief for muscular pain and stiffness, improve flexibility, and increase range of motion. The effectiveness of the treatment is thought to depend on the ability of the therapist to accurately target myofascial trigger points, as well as their awareness of anatomical structures. For this reason, it’s critical to select a qualified therapist.5

Which conditions does dry needling treat?

Dry needling is thought to be helpful for the following conditions:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Neck pain
  • Heel pain
  • Hip pain
  • Back pain

Dry needling is a way to relieve pressure from the body’s myofascial trigger points, so theoretically, it can treat pain in most areas of the body.

How to choose a physical therapist for dry needling?

Choosing a physical therapist for dry needling can be challenging, especially if you have never received the treatment before. As an invasive treatment, dry needling has a higher risk of infection, so it’s critical to select a qualified therapist. ANTA’s practitioners go through a strict membership application process, so the safest and easiest way to do this is through ANTA’s practitioner search.

Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Qualifications: Ensure you select a qualified, nationally accredited dry needling practitioner with formal qualifications.
  • Current knowledge: Check whether your dry needling practitioner is well-versed in current research. Make sure your chosen therapist is up-to-date on the latest techniques and practices.
  • Ensure that the practitioner uses sterile needles, to reduce the risk of contracting bloodborne illnesses.
  • Expertise relevant to your condition: dry needling practitioner will complete an assessment before applying any treatment. This will ensure that they target and address the specific problem quickly.
  • Cleanliness: Ensure your dry needling practitioner’s treatment room is clean and presented professionally.


1. Does dry needling hurt?

Some people experience some pain with dry needling, which is reported as a feeling of pressure or “fullness” in the muscle as it’s being stimulated. Many people don’t feel the needle going in.

If you experience extreme pain during dry needling (highly unlikely), you should tell the therapist right away.

2. Can you get dry needling when pregnant?

There’s no consensus on the safety of dry needling during pregnancy. Some practitioners believe that it’s safe, while others disagree. Your best bet is to find a dry needling practitioner from our database of qualified experts, and have a candid conversation with them.

3. Does dry needling cure plantar fasciitis?

In 2016, a single-blind clininal trial with 20 people concluded that dry needling is a good starting point for plantar fasciitis treatment, before moving onto more invasive therapies.1

4. Does dry needling work for tennis elbow?

Some small studies2,3 have found that dry needling works for tennis elbow, but there hasn’t been enough studies to confirm for sure.

5. How long after dry needling can I exercise?

After dry needling treatment, there’s no recommended waiting time before you can start exercising, so the best thing to do is listen to your body. If certain muscles feel achy after the treatment, you might want to wait until they’re recovered before putting them through strenuous exercise.


  1. Bina Eftekharsadat, Arash Babaei-Ghazani, and Vahideh Zeinolabedinzadeh, 2016, Dry needling in patients with chronic heel pain due to plantar fasciitis: A single-blinded randomized clinical trial, Medical Journal of The Islamic Republic of Iran
  2. M.A. Wymore, D. Blackington, 2018, Dry Needling: A Case Study in Treating Tennis Elbow, Journal of Hand Therapy
  3. Ardalan Shariat, Pardis Noormohammadpour, Amir Hossein Memari, Noureddin Nakhostin Ansari, Joshua A. Cleland, Ramin Kordi, 2018, Acute effects of one session dry needling on a chronic golfer’s elbow disability, Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation
  4. Trigger Point Injection (TPI) for Muscle Pain Relief, WedMD
  5. Dry needling, Physiopedia