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Dry Needling VS Acupuncture: Which Is Best?

Written By Jennifer Stawarz, MSPT

When you're considering which type of needle is the best for you, you may think that these two treatments are similar in approach and outcome. While they both involve inserting tiny needles into areas of the body, they are quite different in technique and theory for how and where the needles are placed. Choosing which will help you the most also depends on the type of condition you're looking to treat.

In acupuncture, the needles are inserted into points along meridian lines, representing the body's organs and is based on ancient Chinese medicine. It's theory is to restore balance and flow of energy throughout the body. Acupuncture is often used to treat chronic pain, medical conditions and stress. The needles are left in place for 15-30 minutes and they are not painful.

Dry needling is based on Western medicine and was developed in the 1980's. These needles are inserted into trigger points within muscles in order to stimulate the muscle to get it to release, allowing it to restore normal function. It's called dry needling because nothing is injected into the muscle. It's muscle stimulation, using a needle. The amount of needles used on a particular body part or injury will vary, and with dry needling the length of the needle varies depending on the depth of the tissue the therapist is trying to reach. These needles are left in your muscle until it releases, which is typically 8-20 minutes. Acupuncture needles are not painful, however dry needling can be. You may also bruise slightly and be sore from the treatment.

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Typically, your therapist will recommend 2-3 sessions of dry needling to determine if the treatment is a benefit for you. It can be a great option to compliment your current physical therapy treatment or to improve range of motion or relieve pain faster.

Believe it or not, many people rely on sticking needles into their body as an alternative treatment for pain relief. Research in a 2013 study in JOSPT demonstrated that dry needling is more effective than a placebo treatment. It is best at treating muscle pain and sports injuries, as well as hip/pelvic pain and sciatica. If you're simply looking to relieve muscle pain and tightness, dry needing is your best option.

Magna Physical Therapy has five Dry Needling certified clinicians. If you are considering dry needling for your injury, call our office to learn more or to schedule your first appointment.


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