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 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 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
Dry needling is thought to be helpful for the following conditions:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
Some small studies2,3 have found that dry needling works for tennis elbow, but there hasn’t been enough studies to confirm for sure.
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.