As physio's we commonly get asked the differences between ‘dry needling’ and ‘acupuncture’. There are definitely some similarities between the two techniques, but the two are more different than they are alike!
The similarity between acupuncture and dry needling lies in the needles themselves. Very fine-gauge needles (of varying thicknesses & lengths) are used for both dry needling and acupuncture. The needles are inserted into the skin in both techniques, but where the needles are placed depends entirely on the type of treatment you are having.
Acupuncture has roots in Chinese medicine, and is a technique that aims to alter the flow of Qi energy along various pathways of the body (called meridians). This technique is often employed to alleviate pain, but also has many other uses relating to many of our bodily functions (for example, acupuncture is sometimes used to assist fertility and conception). Acupuncturists have undergone specific training in the practice of acupuncture.
Dry needling is an evidence-based technique that stems from our western-medicine practices, used primarily as a pain-alleviating technique. It is most usually employed by physiotherapists, osteopaths or chiropractors who have completed further study in dry needling. As with acupuncture, needles are inserted into the skin at specific points located in a muscle (called trigger points), similar to what might be targeted in a physiotherapy session or a remedial massage. The insertion of the needle to this point is thought to stimulate blood flow to the area, allowing a tight muscle to relax. Dry needling is also thought to provide pain relief through the pain-gate theory. The idea behind this theory is that providing an alternative stimulus to an area that is feeling painful “blocks” some of the nerve messages that are causing our brain to perceive pain, hence decreasing our experience of pain in the process. Dry needling may sound scary, but is usually quite a painless technique. Feel free to contact the clinic to learn more about whether dry needling might be a good option for you!