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Explaining the Difference Between Acupuncture and Dry Needling to a Patient

As a physiotherapist, it's important to clarify the differences between acupuncture and dry needling for your patients. Here's how you can explain it:


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice based on traditional Chinese medicine principles. It involves the insertion of very fine needles at specific points on the body known as acupuncture points. These points are believed to be connected by energy pathways called meridians. Acupuncture aims to balance the body's energy flow and promote overall health and well-being. Dry Needling:

Dry needling, on the other hand, is a modern technique rooted in Western medicine. It involves the insertion of thin needles into specific trigger points or knots in muscles. The goal of dry needling is to release tension in muscles, reduce pain, and improve mobility. It's based on the understanding of muscular and nervous system physiology rather than energy meridians.

Indications for Acupuncture:

Acupuncture is often used for conditions where energy flow is thought to play a role, such as:

  1. Pain Management: Acupuncture can be effective for various types of pain, including chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and migraines.

  2. Stress and Anxiety: It may help reduce stress and anxiety, promoting relaxation and emotional well-being.

Case Study - Acupuncture: Patient Profile:

  • A 38-year-old female presents with chronic migraine headaches and associated neck and shoulder pain.

  • She has tried multiple medications with limited success and is seeking alternative treatments.


  • Acupuncture sessions are scheduled to address both the migraines and the neck/shoulder pain.

  • Needles are inserted at specific acupuncture points related to migraine relief and muscle relaxation in the neck and shoulders.


  • After a series of acupuncture sessions, the patient reports a significant reduction in migraine frequency and intensity.

  • Her neck and shoulder pain also diminishes, contributing to improved overall quality of life.

Indications for Dry Needling: Dry needling is primarily used to address musculoskeletal issues, including:

  1. Muscle Pain: It's effective for managing muscle pain, such as myofascial pain syndrome and muscle tightness.

  2. Movement Dysfunction: Dry needling can help improve mobility by releasing muscle tension and promoting proper muscle function.

Case Study - Dry Needling: Patient Profile:

  • A 45-year-old male with a history of low back pain and difficulty bending forward.

  • The pain is primarily in the lower back and radiates down one leg.


  • Dry needling sessions are incorporated into the patient's physiotherapy treatment plan.

  • The needles are inserted into trigger points in the lower back muscles to release tension and improve flexibility.


  • After a series of dry needling sessions combined with physiotherapy exercises, the patient experiences reduced pain and improved range of motion.

  • He can now bend forward with significantly less discomfort and regain functionality in his daily activities.

In summary, acupuncture and dry needling are distinct techniques with different principles and applications. Acupuncture focuses on energy flow and is often used for conditions related to this energy balance. Dry needling targets muscle pain and mobility issues and is rooted in Western medicine principles. The choice between the two depends on the patient's condition and goals, and physiotherapists can help determine the most suitable approach for each individual. Dan Morwood

Physiotherapist, DPT, CAFCI, CGDNT

Peak Performance Physiotherapy & Sports Rehab

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