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          Dry needling is a type of needling that treats myofascial pain. The practice of dry needling, or trigger point dry needling, is based on the idea that muscles sometimes have knotted areas or trigger points. This practice believes that “dry needling changes the way the brain and muscles talk to each other to let the system return to a more normal movement pattern” (Cleveland Clinic, 2018).

What are the symptoms DRY NEEDLING TREAT?

          Dry needling is used for a variety of reasons, among those being a limited range of motion, joint problems, disk problems, tendinitis, migraine and tension headaches, jaw and mouth problems, whiplash, repetitive motion disorders, spinal problems, pelvic pain, night cramps, phantom pain, and post-herpetic neuralgia. The most common side effects of dry needling include soreness during or after treatment, bleeding at the needle sites, fainting, fatigue, bruising, and a rare side effect of organ puncture (Cleveland Clinic, 2018). 


          Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine modality that uses thin metallic needles to puncture the skin and muscle in order to improve the flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body’s meridian system. Acupuncture shares some uses with dry needling. The most common acupuncture uses are treating nausea, dental pain, addiction, headaches, IBS, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, stroke rehabilitation, and more (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022).

acupuncture vs. dry needling

          According to Fan et al., dry needling can be described as an over-simplified practice of acupuncture (2017). A 2016 study even found that the trigger points (MTrP) used in dry needling are significantly correlated to acupoints in traditional Chinese medicine, including primary channel acupoints, extra acupoints, and Ah-shi points (Liu et al., 2016). Looking at the short-term and long-term effectiveness of dry needling in treating neck pain, Gattie et al.'s study (2021) concluded that drying needling on myofascial trigger points in addition to manual therapy and exercise was not significantly beneficial in helping disability and pain. However, the effectiveness of dry needling will depend upon the location of needle placement, depth of insertion (superficial or deep insertion), needle forces and motions, and if a ‘local twitch response’ takes place (Cagnie et al., 2013).

Why should you choose acupuncture?

          Unlike dry needling, countless studies have found acupuncture beneficial in treating pain and disabilities. A study by Ho et al. (2017) found that abdominal acupuncture was more effective in improving neck pain than sham acupuncture. Yu et al.'s study (2020) examines the benefits of acupuncture among individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that acupuncture was beneficial in affecting Aβ metabolism (key protein in Alzheimer’s disease), tau phosphorylation, neurotransmitters, neurogenesis, synapse and neuron function, autophagy, neuronal apoptosis, neuroinflammation, cerebral glucose metabolism, and brain response. 

          Not only is effectiveness a critical factor in determining if you should choose acupuncture over dry needling, but safety should be considered as well. For example, one study regarding dry needling found that one participant had an overall deterioration of symptoms after the procedure, which could be life-threatening. Two other patients had increasing pain after the dry needling procedure, and another patient was sent to the emergency room for fever and chills (Hu et al., 2018). In contrast, several studies on the safety of acupuncture have found that very little to no adverse events have occurred (Zhou et al., 2015; Zhang et al., 2019; Li et al., 2021). 

          The clinic director and chief acupuncturist at Rapha Acupuncture, Dr. Weon Seob Lee, holds a board-certified Diplomate in Oriental Medicine from NCCAOM since 2003 and is licensed in the states of Florida, Georgia, and California. He has been practicing TCM and acupuncture in 7 countries and states for more than 25 years. Check out Dr. Lee’s full bio here.


          Schedule a wellness consultation with Dr. Lee to find out how he can help you to achieve better health.

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Cagnie, B., Dewitte, V., Barbe, T., Timmermans, F., Delrue, N., & Meeus, M. (2013). Physiologic effects of dry needling. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 17(8).

Cleveland Clinic. Dry needling & physical therapy. (2018).

Fan, A. Y., Xu, J., & Li, Y-M. (2017). Evidence and expert opinions: Dry needling versus acupuncture (II): The american alliance for professional acupuncture safety (AAPAS) white paper 2016. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, 23(2), 83–90.

Gattie, E., Cleland, J. A., Pandya, J., & Snodgrass, S. (2021). Dry needling adds no benefit to the treatment of Neck Pain: A sham-controlled randomized clinical trial with 1-year follow-up. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 51(1), 37–45.

Ho, L. F., Lin, Z. X., Leung, A. W., Chen, L., Zhang, H., Ng, B. F., Ziea, E. T., & Guo, Y. (2017). Efficacy of abdominal acupuncture for neck pain: A randomized controlled trial. PLOS ONE, 12(7).

Hu, H.-T., Gao, H., Ma, R.-J., Zhao, X.-F., Tian, H.-F., & Li, L. (2018). Is dry needling effective for low back pain? Medicine, 97(26).

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Acupuncture. (2022).

Li, H., Liu, A., Liu, Z., Cheng, G., Cui, J., Li, S., Li, P., Xin, Y., & Liu, Y. (2021). Evaluation of the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture in the treatment of premature ventricular contractions: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis.

Liu, L., Skinner, M. A., McDonough, S. M., & Baxter, G. D. (2016). Traditional chinese medicine acupuncture and myofascial trigger needling: The same stimulation points? Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 26, 28–32.

Yu, C.-C., Du, Y.-J., Wang, S.-Q., Liu, L.-B., Shen, F., Wang, L., Lin, Y.-F., & Kong, L.-H. (2020). Experimental evidence of the benefits of acupuncture for alzheimer's disease: An updated review. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 14.

Zhang, M., Zhao, J., Li, X., Chen, X., Xie, J., Meng, L., & Gao, X. (2019). Effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for insomnia. Medicine, 98(45).

Zhou, J., Peng, W., Xu, M., Li, W., & Liu, Z. (2015). The effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for patients with alzheimer disease. Medicine, 94(22).

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