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Difference Between Dry Needling & Acupuncture

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 11:47 AM

You may have heard the health benefits of acupuncture, but did you know that there is a different practice that is often mistaken as acupuncture? Stacy Malone, MPT, OCS, Cert. DN, CPI, Rehab Services at NorthShore, breaks down the differences between the two practices:


Acupuncture is a complementary medical practice rooted in traditional Chinese medicine that entails stimulating certain points on the body – most often with a needle penetrating the skin – to alleviate pain or to help treat various health conditions.

Dry needling is a technique employed by physical therapists and is similar in that a needle is inserted into the skin to alleviate pain. However the primary difference between acupuncture and dry needling is that acupuncture treats for the purpose of altering the flow of Qi (or energy) along traditional Chinese meridians while dry needling follows evidence-based guidelines, recommended “point” locations, and dosages for the treatment of specific conditions.

Physical therapists use dry needling with the goals of addressing neuromuscular conditions, relieving pain, and/or improving range of motion. Evidence to date supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.

If you have more questions about dry needling or acupuncture, speak with your primary care physician about next steps you can take.