dry needling physio treatment

What Is the Difference Between Dry Needling VS Acupuncture?

Dry needling has gained significant attention to help relieve pain and promote overall wellness. With the use of needles to trigger specific points in the body, it can help in improving the condition of your musculoskeletal system. But dry needling can often be mistaken as a form of acupuncture, as they both use needles during procedures. However, they are different practices.

Dry Needling vs Acupuncture: How Can You Tell It Apart?

Comparing and contrasting acupuncture and dry needling enables you to clearly differentiate both techniques and in what way each of them improve your well-being.

How does Dry Needling and Acupuncture Work?

Dry needling, often employed within physiotherapy is a procedure designed to alleviate muscle tension and dysfunction. Skilled practitioners insert thin needles directly into specific trigger points within muscles, tendons, or connective tissues. These tight or knotted trigger points contribute to discomfort and restricted movement.

As the needle punctures the trigger point, it stimulates a local twitch response, where the body rushes an increased blood flow to the area. Along with it comes a surge of helpful hormones and immune cells that facilitate healing. This heightened circulation helps in easing muscle tension and improving muscle pain.

On the other hand, acupuncture is a traditional practice that revolves around the concept of vital energy or “Qi.” It operates on the belief that the body’s energy flows through specific pathways or meridians. When these pathways are blocked or imbalanced, it can lead to various physical and mental ailments. The insertion of needles into precise acupuncture points along these meridians is believed to restore energy flow, promoting harmony within the body.

So in summary – dry needling targets physical trigger points and uses needles to provoke a healing response, while acupuncture aims to open up energetic blockages by needling specific points related to meridians. Both use needles, but the underlying mechanisms differ.

Origins and Historical Context

Acupuncture’s origins trace back to ancient China with records dating back a hundred years before the Common Era, where it flourished as an integral component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). This practice is firmly rooted in a holistic understanding of the body’s interconnectedness with nature and the universe. TCM recognises the flow of vital energy, or “qi,” as the foundation of health. According to this philosophy, disruptions in the flow of qi along meridians can lead to physical and emotional disharmony.

Ancient Chinese healers believed that strategically inserting needles into specific acupuncture points along these meridians could restore the balance of qi and promote the body’s innate healing abilities. This holistic approach emphasised not only managing symptoms but also promoting your overall well-being and preventing future ailments.

In contrast to the ancient origins of acupuncture, dry needling is a more recent addition to the field of alternative therapies. Emerging in the late 20th century, dry needling is grounded in modern anatomical and physiological understanding. This technique was developed as an extension of Western medicine’s evolving knowledge about musculoskeletal issues.

Dry needling’s origins can be traced to the work of Dr Janet Travell, who extensively studied and documented myofascial trigger points. These points are localised knots or taut bands within muscles that can lead to pain and restricted movement. Drawing from this research, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals devised dry needling to precisely target these trigger points and alleviate muscular discomfort.

Focus and Applications of Acupuncture vs Dry Needling

The focus of these two interventions is what further distinguishes them. Dry needling primarily targets musculoskeletal issues. It is commonly used to manage muscle pain, reduce tension, and improve mobility in sports injuries, chronic pain, and even fibromyalgia.

Conversely, acupuncture has a broader scope. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe acupuncture’s holistic approach can target the underlying imbalances contributing to various ailments, and in turn address health concerns beyond physical pain. These include digestive disorders, stress, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and fertility issues.

Make an Informed Choice on Pain & Symptom Management

The choice between dry needling and acupuncture ultimately depends on your health goals and preferences. If you’re seeking targeted relief from muscle tension or pain, dry needling might be the optimal choice for you.

Benchmark Physio offers physiotherapy in Singapore to help you in managing your symptoms and improve your overall well-being. We have experienced physiotherapists that have worked with numerous patients in Singapore, providing them with solutions to enhance their quality of life, from dry needling to back physio. Consult with our physiotherapists today.

Learn more about the benefits of physiotherapy and why physiotherapy is important in Singapore.

Meet Our Physiotherapist

This article is written by Ng Hong Kai, our Clinic Director and Chief Physiotherapist

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Clinic Director and Chief Physiotherapist​​

  • Master of Clinical Physiotherapy (Musculoskeletal), Curtin University (Australia)
  • Master of Physiotherapy, University of Sydney (Australia)
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise & Sports Science), University of Sydney (Australia)
  • Member of Australian College of Physiotherapists and Australian Physiotherapy Association
  • Full registration with Allied Health Professions Council, Singapore, and Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
  • GEMt Certified Dry Needling Practitioner

Hong Kai has been practising musculoskeletal physiotherapy for more than a decade. He is the first Singaporean to achieve dual credentials as both an APA Titled Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and a tertiary trained Exercise Scientist.

Hong Kai's broad and extensive skillset allows him to create solutions that are simple, effective and tailored to a client’s musculoskeletal needs. His beliefs in continuing education and self improvement led him to complete his Masters in Clinical Physiotherapy (Musculoskeletal), where he had a chance to participate in formal research into knee osteoarthritis under the supervision of world renowned researcher and physiotherapist Prof Peter 0′ Sullivan. 

Hong Kai has experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, with a specific focus on addressing lower back, neck, shoulder and knee pain.