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Acupuncture or Dry Needling? Are They the Same Thing?

At Thrive we get a fair amount of clients/friends/family members asking us questions like: Should I get acupuncture? What is acupuncture? Is dry needling the same or better? What is dry needling? Here we’re going to unpack that and hopefully give you some answers to those questions. (Disclaimer: I’ll start this by stating I am not an acupuncturist (I practice dry needling), and when it comes to information on acupuncture I will be citing generally known information. If you would like to know a lot more about acupuncture, reach out to your local practicing acupuncturist.)

Ok, now to get to it. To answer this question on acupuncture vs dry needling we need to first define what each practice is and how it works.

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that dates back thousands of years (approximately 3,000) and is practiced across the world. Acupuncturists use very thin monofilament needles, inserted at strategic points to treat (mostly) pain (there are other protocols for various medical and psychological conditions). The thought is that the insertion of these needles helps to balance the body’s energy (qi) believed to flow through various pathways, or meridians.

Dry needling, on the other hand, is a new practice based more in western medicine and has only become widely used in the last couple of decades. Dry needling refers to the insertion of a “dry” needle (versus a “wet” needle, i.e. one you would use for a cortisone injection or for your flu vaccine) directly into the body’s soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc.). The needles are the same needles that are used in acupuncture. The goal is to stimulate local blood flow, release pain reducing hormones (natural opioids) within the body, release your body’s natural anti-inflammatory chemicals (i.e. adenosine) and regulate nervous system activity/communication with the affected area. Basically, the insertion of the needle causes changes locally in the soft tissue, at the level of the spinal cord and in the brain. These changes help to put your body and the local tissue in a better state to recover.

Remember, techniques like this only help to FACILITATE recovery, they don’t have any magic regenerative properties themselves. Our bodies are amazing and will do all the work when it comes to tissue repair, this just helps to give it a little “boost.”

Both acupuncture and dry needling can be used to treat musculoskeletal conditions like plantar fasciitis, biceps tendonitis, calf strains, Achilles tendonitis, hip flexor strains, low back pain, neck pain and even headaches and jaw/TMJ pain.

Keep reading after the image to learn which one works better...

So what works better? Great question, they both can work. As you can see from reading above, they both can be used to treat a plethora of musculoskeletal pain conditions and they both use the same exact needles. Where they differ is in the approach and the rationale behind the treatment. However, as the studies on dry needling and trigger points continue to come out they are finding, more and more, that common trigger points overlap with what acupuncturists call “ah-shi” points as well as other common sites of insertion for acupuncture. Basically, more “western” medical research is starting to find that there is a lot of overlap between dry needling and acupuncture.

Conclusion: Both dry needling and acupuncture can be effective tools for managing musculoskeletal pain (as well as other conditions like headaches, jaw/TMJ pain). However, either practice should not be done just by itself. Dry needling or acupuncture should be used as a tool for recovery to decrease pain or improve muscle function but without the proper exercise(s) to address the actual cause of whatever pain you’re treating, you may not be getting the most out of treatment or may be in for a longer recovery. If you have any more questions on dry needling or how it could help you, you can always schedule an appointment for one of our free consultations!

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