Acupuncture? Dry needling? Are they the same, or are they different? This is a common question, and several people have asked me about these techniques recently. When it comes to pain relief, many people use the terms interchangeably. After all, they both use the insertion of fine, sterile needles to create changes in a person's body. That's about all they have in common, though. The truth is that acupuncture and dry needling are independent techniques with different practitioners, philosophical backgrounds, goals, and levels of training.

First, who is qualified in these practices? In order to be a licensed acupuncturist, I had the choice of completing a Master's degree in either acupuncture (3 years), or Oriental medicine (4 years). These years were spent studying the body as a whole, the foundations of acupuncture, and Oriental medicine. My schooling included 1500 hours of clinical acupuncture experience.

The professionals who generally practice dry needling are physical therapists and chiropractors, with physical therapists being the most common. Physical therapists receive a doctorate of physical therapy, which takes 3 years to earn. During these years physical therapists study the physical aspects of the body, including manipulation, exercise, range of motion, and treatment of injury. They may take a course lasting a few hours that discusses dry needling as a possible mode of treatment.

When it comes to philosophies and goals, acupuncture and dry needling are even more different. Dry needling works solely on the physical aspects of the body. Therapists who practice dry needling trigger specific points based on the muscles and nerves that are causing pain, but with less consideration for the whole body. The goal of dry needling is the relief of physical pain in the nerves or muscles.

Acupuncture, being a foundation of Oriental medicine, looks at and treats your whole body based on the 5 elements philosophy. It focuses on balancing the elements contained within the body in order to create lasting change and healing. Acupuncture can help people who suffer from both physical and emotional pain because it treats the body as a whole, and many people find acupuncture treatments to be both relaxing and balancing. The goal of acupuncture is overall healing and improved physical and emotional wellness.

The bottom line is that acupuncture and dry needling are very different techniques practiced by different professionals with different areas of expertise. Acupuncture, with a trained practitioner, focuses on improving the entire body and promotes physical and emotional healing and balance.

Photo Credit: Art of Acupuncture