As a physiotherapist with dry needling qualifications, patients often ask me what is the difference between acupuncture and dry needling? And how can these techniques help me with my musculoskeletal injury? Is one better than the other? So here’s the break down….

Most practitioners practice either traditional chinese acupuncture or western acupuncture. Traditional chinese acupuncture works on the belief that there are two forces within the body that require balance in order to achieve health and fitness, known as YIN (negative) and YANG (positive). If injury, disease or emotional trauma occurs, the natural balance will be affected and the result is an altered flow of QI (pronounced “chee”).  Slowing or stagnation of QI will cause pain and inflammation, or a deficit of QI, will cause weakness, exhaustion and longer debilitating disease. The stimulation of relevant acupuncture points may free stagnation, reduce excess QI or increase QI to the specific area or organ therefore helping to restore normal QI flow and balance.

Western Acupuncture is used by physiotherapists to achieve pain relief via the stimulation of the nervous system. It stimulates the body to produce it’s own pain relieving neuro-chemicals, such as endorphins for pain relief, melatonin to promote sleep or serotonin to promote well being.  The practitioner uses their anatomical knowledge of the body to select acupuncture points that stimulate nerve endings which will help to relieve pain and promote healing. It can often be used as a precursor for other manual/manipulative therapy or a home exercise programme

For both of these methods multiple single use, sterile needles are inserted into the skin and the needles can be left in for up to 30mins (although the time will vary depending on the desired treatment effect you are after).

Dry needling on the other hand is defined as rapid short term needling to altered or dysfunctional tissues in order to improve or restore function. This may include (but is not limited to) needling of myofascial trigger points, periosteum and connective tissues. When physiotherapists in New Zealand use Dry Needling or Trigger Point Acupuncture, a single use, sterilised, disposable acupuncture needle is placed into the trigger point in the affected muscle until a twitch is felt in the muscle, aiming to reproduce the patient’s symptoms.  More than one trigger point may be needled in a session and the needles are generally not left in place. The muscle may then be stretched to improve the length of the muscle.  As this is a very strong stimulation of the nerve endings, the patient will usually feel a very strong aching sensation and may also feel the twitch response as the trigger point is needled during the treatment.

Both acupuncture and dry needling have been proven to help the rehabilitation of injuries when our standard treatment options (e.g. massage, mobilisations, stretches and strength exercises) have helped, but not completely resolved a patient’s pain or dysfunction. They are like another string in our bow.  Through using dry needling I have seen patient’s tight muscles become more relaxed to allow greater freedom of movement, and weak/inhibited muscles ‘wake up’ and start firing more effectively.  Think of it like you are hitting the reset button on your muscles to help improve your biomechanics.

Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule as to whether acupunture or dry needling could be right for you, as everybody is different and responds to treatment in a very different way. But if you are interested in learning more and trying either of these these two techniques, get in touch to make an appointment with one of our qualified physiotherapists today.

Acupunture is available at:
Dry needling is available at: Botany, Next Gen, Takapuna, Grey Lynn and Newmarket