Acupuncture vs. Dry Needling

What is acupuncture? What is dry needling? What's the difference between the two? I get asked these questions (and more) all the time! The short answer: Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that uses needles to help restore the flow of energy in the body and treat a myriad of conditions. Dry needling is based on Western medicine principles and uses needles to treat muscle pain and other muscle-specific conditions. I've highlighted some of the main differences below and have followed with a more detailed description.

Acupuncture
  • Needles placed at specific points along meridians (lines) in the body
  • Treats pain, allergies, addiction, IBS, anxiety, and more
  • Restores proper flow and balance of energy in the body, promoting healing
  • Potential immediate decrease in pain, symptoms, and stress; improved overall health and feeling of well-being
  • Treatment duration usually around 30 minutes
  • Part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)
Dry Needling
  • Needles placed in muscle trigger points ("knots")
  • Treats muscle aches, pain, tightness, and some nerve pain
  • Reduces trigger points, muscle spasm, and pain
  • Potential immediate decrease in pain and discomfort, improved range of motion, and easier movement
  • Treatment time is generally short, usually only 5-10 minutes
  • Based on Western medicine anatomical and neurophysiological properties
The Details
ACUPUNCTURE - Acupuncture is part of TCM and has been a significant part of Eastern medicine for over 2,500 years. Acupuncture uses very tiny needles (less than 1/10th the size of a sewing needle) to stimulate specific points and restore the balance and flow of "Qi", or energy throughout the body. Qi flows along meridians (nervous system channels) in the body. Each of the 12 meridians is associated with an inner organ or metabolic process. When there is a block or imbalance in the flow of Qi, health problems develop. 

Acupuncture helps unblock and restore balance to the flow of energy throughout the body. It treats the whole person, not just one symptom, and every person is different so there is no "one" treatment protocol for a specific condition. Some may notice significant symptom relief after one visit, while others may need 4-5 visits before they begin to notice a positive change in their condition. Most treatment sessions last about 30 minutes. The needles are inserted into the skin (usually shallow, about 0.5cm) at specific points and typically left in place for the duration of the treatment. Acupuncture is generally relaxing. 

Acupuncture is used to treat both musculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal conditions. It treats muscle and joint pain, nerve conditions like sciatica and carpal tunnel, arthritis, headaches, migraines, male and female fertility conditions, irregular or painful menstruation, anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, PTSD, allergies, colds and flu, dizziness, addiction, weight control, smoking cessation, side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, constipation, IBS, and more. 

DRY NEEDLING - Dry needling (DN) uses the same tiny needles that are used during an acupuncture treatment, but that is about the only similarity. DN was first used in the 1940's but has been gaining popularity since the 2000's. DN is based on Western medicine neurological, physiological, and anatomical properties, and it is quickly being recognized by more hospitals and medical doctors as a very fast and effective treatment for musculoskeletal pain (muscle tightness, spasm, trigger points). Some emergency rooms across the country have even started utilizing dry needling in place of opioids and other prescription pain medications for muscle-related pain. 

The term "dry" needling is used because the tiny needles are inserted without injecting medication into the tissue. Many patients experience some pain relief immediately following a DN treatment, but others require multiple treatments before they notice a significant improvement in their pain level. Dry needling sessions are much shorter than an acupuncture treatment - often the muscle relaxes within a minute or two. Most muscle knots and trigger points are located deep in the muscle tissue, so the needle must be inserted further to reach it. Depending on the location and size of the muscle, a needle will be inserted anywhere from 0.5-5.0 inches to reach a trigger point or tight muscle. Once in the tissue, the needle is manipulated in a specific way to inactivate the trigger point and decrease pain. Patients may feel a deep ache, muscle twitch/contraction, heaviness in the area, a brief shooting sensation, relaxation, or nothing at all. Mild muscle soreness is not uncommon for 24-48 hours following a treatment. Ice, heat, stretching, and plenty of water will help minimize soreness. 

DN is used to decrease pain and improve range of motion by reducing muscle tension and tightness, inactivating painful trigger points, increasing circulation, and stimulating nerve pathways that inhibit pain signals. It is effective at treating muscle pain, muscle cramps, headaches, some nerve conditions like sciatica and carpal tunnel, muscle tightness, and painful trigger points. 

Searching for a acupuncture or dry needling in Shawnee? Curious if acupuncture or dry needling can help you? Please reach out to us with any questions! Consultations are always complimentary!

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Comments

  1. Really great post. Looking forward to more great content. However, Cathay Acupuncture & Herbal Clinic offers the Best Acupuncture in Kansas City provide holistic healthcare services such as acupuncture treatment, cupping therapy, Moxibustion treatment, traditional Chinese Herbal medicine treatment and products, TuiNa, massage therapy, chiropractic services, and naturopathic services, etc. all in one place.

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