ACUPUNCTURE VS DRY NEEDLING – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
November 25th, 2019
Whenever I tell people that I’m an Acupuncturist, one of the first questions they ask me is, “What’s the difference between Acupuncture and dry needling?”, or sometimes, “I’ve had dry needling before, is that the same thing?”. These questions really concern the Acupuncture community because it means there is still so much confusion out there that may cause people to get the wrong impression of what Acupuncture is and possibly even turn away from it all together. So today I’m going to explain the differences as simply as I can.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which dates back thousands of years and is a whole body system of health care. The practitioner asks many questions about your symptoms and general health and, from your answers, makes a diagnosis and determines which points need to be needled. Needles are gently inserted to correct, strengthen, balance the energy flow in the body so that it can function the way it should and basically heal itself. It has a very calming, relaxing effect on the body and people often fall asleep once the needles are in! Because Acupuncture is a holistic therapy, addressing the energy flow in our bodies, it’s able to treat a huge variety of ailments from headaches and migraines to stress and anxiety, period pain to insomnia, infertility to menopause, constipation, diarrhea, hayfever, sinus congestion, muscular pain, joint pain, just to name a few.
In order to become a registered TCM Acupuncturist, practitioners are required to undertake a minimum of 4 years study in an AHPRA approved bachelor degree, which includes 1000 hours of clinical experience. We are required to hold professional indemnity insurance, first aid certificate and maintain ongoing professional education.
What is Dry Needling?
Dry needling, sometimes known as intramuscular stimulation, is a technique used to treat dysfunction of muscle and connective tissue, minimise pain and improve structural or functional damage. The practitioner inserts needles into trigger points in the muscle and strongly stimulates the needle to get a neural reaction. It can be quite painful but is very effective in getting the muscle to release its tension.
Most practitioners that practice dry needling are physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, myotherapists and massage therapists, and dry needling is an excellent tool they can use in addition to their treatments. In order to practice dry needling, the practitioner can do a weekend course to learn the location of trigger points, needling technique, safety precautions and how to treat specific musculoskeletal conditions. There are also advanced dry needling courses which are more intensive and involve up to 100 plus hours of learning and practice. Because they are qualified, registered professionals, they are also held to the same high standard and are required to hold professional indemnity insurance, first aid certificate and maintain ongoing education.
Why is it Important to Know the Difference?
Dry needling is great for releasing tight, knotted muscles and waking up or calming down the nerves that feed them. I myself have had it done by our osteopath, Dr Steph Ryan, and our myotherapist, Robina Manzie, to great effect! Unfortunately, because we use the same type of needles, the general public can sometimes think Acupuncture and dry needling are the same thing. And on some occasions, irresponsible practitioners who claim they are the same can reinforce this misconception. People have said to me, “I’ve had Acupuncture before but it hurt so much, I’ll never have it again” but when asked who they received it from, it was revealed it was dry needling from a physiotherapist. I’ve had a client tell me she had been receiving “acupuncture” from her physiotherapist, but when she asked them to help her with fertility, they said they didn’t know which points to do for that, looked some points up in a book and put some in her abdomen. These are absolute horror stories for me because this is NOT Acupuncture!
There are laws in place that protect the title of “Acupuncturist”, so that only people who have studied a minimum 4 year bachelor degree in Chinese Medicine Acupuncture can call themselves an Acupuncturist. However, there are no laws to protect the practice of Acupuncture, so someone can say they are not an Acupuncturist, but that what they’re doing is “acupuncture”. This does not make any sense at all but unfortunately this is the case for the time being, and creates a lot of confusion for the general public.
So to break it down even further, I’ve put the differences between Acupuncture and Dry Needling into the table below:
|Needles used||Single use, sterile needles||Single use, sterile needles|
|Qualifications required||4 year bachelor degree||Up to 100 hours learning and practice (plus relevant degree/diploma)|
|What it can treat||The whole body and mind||Muscle and nerve pain|
|Mechanism of treatment||Needling into acupuncture points to strengthen, balance, correct energy flow in order to restore proper function to the body||Needling into trigger points in muscle to relax the muscle and relieve pain|
|Pain level*||Minimal to moderate||Moderate to severe|
* Pain levels are subjective and can differ from one person to the next
I hope this has given you some insight into the differences between Acupuncture and Dry Needling. I would suggest before you go ahead with any type of treatment, you always check with your practitioner that they are fully qualified and registered. If you have any further questions please feel free to email or call. My job as a Acupuncturist is to treat, but also educate my clients, so I am always available and happy to chat.