Dry Needling Vs. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is performed by licensed acupuncturists, where as dry needling is typically performed by licensed physical therapists and late last year licensed chiropractors trained in dry needling were approved in Wisconsin. Dry needling uses hollow filament needles like acupuncture and typically the gauge of needle is the same or similar. The term "dry" refers to there not being any saline or medication like corticosteroids applied through the needle.



Acupuncture is based on Eastern Chinese medicine practices that have been around for thousands of years. Dry needling is based on neuroanatomy. Acupuncture needles are placed in several areas to improve energy flow called chi. When needles are applied to areas of pain or muscle spasm, it allows the tissue to relax. Superficial dry needling is done near the surface of the skin to help reduce muscle spasm. When the needle is inserted the muscle fibers move away from the needle allowing the muscle to relax.


Dry needling focuses on treatment of myofascial trigger points which are areas of muscle spasm. It also helps to decrease pain, by causing the release of endorphins. These are the "feel good" hormones also released when you exercise. With dry needling the needles are usually only left in for a short period of time-usually a few minutes. With acupuncture, needles are typically left in for a much longer duration. According to Mayo Clinic "dry needling safe, minimally discomforting and often an effective technique for patients with certain musculoskeletal presentations."


Many people can benefit from dry needling. It can help athletes because it can decrease pain and improve range of motion, allowing better athletic performance. People who experience temporomandibular dysfunction can experience a decrease in jaw pain with dry needling due to decreased spasm of muscle production of endorphins for pain relief. People experiencing tension headache or migraines may benefit from dry needling as well. It has been shown to be beneficial in people diagnosed with fibromyalgia.


There are some contraindications and factors to consider with dry needling. People should not receive dry needing if they are unable to give consent to the treatment or if they have an extreme fear of the treatment. Also people who have lymphedema may be at more risk for infection. People who are immunocompromised are more at risk of infection, since dry needling does puncture the skin and could potentially introduce pathogens. People who are on anti-coagulants like coumadin are more at risk for bleeding a bruising


Most people experience no to mild side effects and there may be mild tenderness when the needle is inserted. Usually there isn't bleeding, but in areas where there are more superficial blood vessels, like around the face and jaw, there tends to be a drop of blood and sometimes light bruising. Some people notice mild soreness following treatment. Some of our patients have reported a reduction in symptoms for up to two weeks following dry needling. Dry needling can be done as a stand alone treatment, or can be done in addition to a chiropractic adjustment.


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