What’s the difference between dry needling and acupuncture?
You may have heard about dry needling, and the only thing you know about it is that the needles look the same as acupuncture, and that’s about it! First let me tell you what dry needling is all about. Dry needling uses the term “dry” because you aren’t being injected with a medication. That helps make the needle super duper small because there doesn’t have to be room for fluid to fit in there too! When the needle is inserted into a trigger point, it causes a “twitch response” which makes the muscle knot melt away (there’s a whole bunch of science stuff behind that, but that’s not what you want to read right now!) You feel the twitch response as an involuntary muscle contraction or tightening. It is perfect for muscles that you’ve been trying to stretch out, rub out, or foam roll out and you only get relief for a few days. It can help you find relief for headaches, backaches and even plantar fasciitis.
Now let’s talk about three differences between dry needling and acupuncture.
Here are 3 differences:
1. Dry needling only deals with the muscles (and fascia)
In dry needling, the needle is only inserted into a muscle belly that a practitioner (for our purposes a Physical Therapist) has found to be dysfunctional (taut band or muscle knot). That is exactly where the needle goes. The PT feels a muscle, determines if there’s a trigger point, and that’s where they treat you with the needle.
Acupuncture, a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine, uses thin needles inserted at very specific points of your body to balance your flow of energy, or Qi (or Chi). It is a very beautiful thing.
2. Dry needling treatment is a matter of seconds
During dry needling, the treatment lasts as long as it takes the muscle to stop twitching. Typically is a matter of 5-30 seconds. The needle goes through the skin, then into the muscle that is in spasm, the muscle twitches to release, and then it’s done. During acupuncture, the needles may remain in your skin for 20-45 minutes.
3. After dry needling, you will go through movement & strength retraining, and may be a little sore
The huge obstacle is getting the knot to melt away, which is what dry needling does AMAZINGLY well. You can then work on quality of movement, improved posture, strength, and flexibility to keep the knot from coming back (exactly what Physical Therapists do so well!) After dry needling, you may be sore. As if you had a really concentrated work out on that single muscle you had treated. After acupuncture, you may feel different responses. My experience has been to feel totally relaxed, and, of course, in balance. Others may feel totally energized. It all depends on what your imbalances are and your goals.
As with anything in medicine, do your own research. Both dry needling and acupuncture are very safe when performed by a competent practitioner. Here is one way to find someone who practices dry needling in your area: http://www.myopainseminars.com/find-a-clinician/
Feel free to call around, ask your friends, and search the internet. I always recommend calling the clinic that you are interested in, and make sure you have a good vibe! One of the best things for your healing is to find a practitioner that you can truly connect with and trust.
I would also like to acknowledge that there are some acupuncturists that believe dry needling should not be performed by anyone other than an acupuncturist. It is a state by state law. Here is a link to the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling January 10, 2018. https://idph.iowa.gov/Portals/1/userfiles/192/Court%20of%20Appeals%20Ruling.PDF