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What is the difference between acupuncture and dryneedling?

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

This is a question I have been asked frequently.

Physiotherapy & Dry needling | Wellbeing Physiotherapy Leederville

Acupuncture  is the application of a thin needle into the skin and is one of the many components of the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  In TCM, the whole body is managed based on the concept of an energy system in which energy, known as “Qi” (air/breath)” is flowing through specific channels



Disease or disorders are a result of the imbalance of the energy system.  TCM acupuncture is used to restore the normal flow of energy, hence normalising the body functions and relieving pain. The selection of points for acupuncture can be local, distal or symptomatic.


Dry needling is usually referred to insertion of “dry” acupuncture needles without injection or medication into trigger points in muscles or myofascia (connective tissue which covers the muscles).  Dry needling does not usually target meridians or areas associated with internal organs as in TCM acupuncture practice.

Physiotherapy & Dry needling

Physiotherapists have embraced the use of dry needling for more than 3 decades using western

reasoning with particular reference to relevant neurophysiology and anatomy.  With thorough knowledge and understanding about functional anatomy, biomechanics and pathophysiology, physiotherapists are in a unique position to seamlessly apply dry needling with precision and effectively based on sound clinical reasoning and differential diagnosis skillset.


Dry needling can be applied in acute and chronic conditions to reduce pain and improve joint mobility.  


Dry needling can increase skin and muscle blood flow.  With a muscle twitch, it can “flush out” pain

substances in the body tissues.  Relieve of pain symptoms can be achieved by activation of large

mechanoreceptors which reduce the “ON” transmission of pain signals to the brain.  


There has been growing evidence to support physiotherapists using dry needling in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions.  Some of the examples include: acute and chronic back pain, chronic neck pain and migraine, pelvic girdle pain, knee osteoarthritis, shoulder pain and lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).

Side effects of Dry needling

When carried out by experienced and appropriately trained physiotherapists, side effects of dry needling are relatively minimal when compared with medications or surgery.  Some common sides effects include soreness, light-headedness, bruising and nausea (feeling like vomiting).  Most side effects will disappear within a few minutes, or after a few hours and up to a day or two.


How to relieve post treatment soreness from Dry needling?


Heat pack – put a heat pack on the area for about 15 mins, for as many times as you prefer.


Gentle stretching – gently stretch the muscles as instructed by your physiotherapist will help relieve the soreness after the treatment.


Rest – rest from vigorous exercise such as gym class or routines for the next 24-48 hrs will allow time for the muscles to recover from the acupuncture treatment.


Warm water bath – sometimes a warm water bath will provide general relaxation, soothing and



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