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Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: Which is Better?

Is dry needling the same thing as Acupuncture? 

In my years of practice as an acupuncturist, it’s unsurprising for patients to confuse Dry Needling with Acupuncture. After all, both practices involve the use of fine needles inserted into particular areas of the skin.

However, they are definitely not the same. The biggest difference between dry needling and acupuncture is the qualification of the practitioner. But let's dive in and compare the two.

What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a physical therapy technique targeting myofascial trigger points — hyper-irritable spots within a taut band of skeletal muscle — to ease pain and enhance range of motion. It is a popular sports medicine component.

The scientific background of trigger points is published in the “Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy” and should be thoroughly understood by Dry Needling practitioners.

Dry Needling uses thin, solid filament needles inserted into the skin and into the muscle to trigger a twitch reflex to relieve tension in the muscle, improve flexibility, and ease pain.

The top 3 reasons people may seek Dry Needling include:

  • Reducing aches sustained from active sports such as biking, repetitive sports such as golf, and work-related injuries.

  • Relief by reducing soreness and tightness. It relieves muscle guarding and spasms and provides stimulation to trigger points.

  • Recovery and bringing your body back to symmetry and balance.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is the most sought-after technique. It has been continually developed to heal people in Asia for thousands of years before being integrated into Western Medicine and accepted globally.

Traditional Chinese medicine believes that “qi” flows through pathways, known as meridians, in the body. When there is sickness or diseases, the qi can't flow smoothly and these meridians become blocked. Inserting needles along these meridians is believed to balance your energy flow.

Benefits of Acupuncture

The Differences Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture

There is a huge gap between Dry Needling and Acupuncture when it comes to the certification process.

Acupuncturists must either have a masters or doctorate degree in Acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine. After completing their education, they will need to pass the California Acupuncture Licensing Examination (CALE) to become licensed to practice Acupuncture in California.

Not only do acupuncturist cover a broader spectrum of ailments and remedies, but they possess a deeper understanding of symptoms and addressing root causes to provide short and long-term solutions.

In California, only Licensed Acupuncturists and MDs can legally perform dry needling.

Other states may allow physical therapists, athletic trainers, and chiropractors after 20 or more hours of training (required hours vary depending on the state).

In California, acupuncture practitioners must complete 50 CEUs of continuing education every two years to maintain their license to practice Acupuncture. This may involve attending seminars, workshops, or classes on Acupuncture and TCM topics to keep your knowledge and skills current.

Success Factors

The success of Acupuncture and Dry Needling often depends on the practitioner’s skill, the patient’s condition, and the appropriateness of the technique for a specific case.

Acupuncture and dry needling are generally considered safe when performed by trained and qualified healthcare professionals.

However, one of the biggest factor in determining the success between dry needling and acupuncture is the method. Dry needling is often used for pain relating to acute muscles, tendon, or ligament injury. Acupuncture also addresses pain due to these injury but there are times when these injuries are not the root cause. For example, at 7 Sages, we see low back pain stemming from emotional drama, organ diseases such as kidney or bladder, other pain radiating to the low back, or other root causes. So needling the low back only may offer temporary relief, if any, but it will not address the root cause.

Like any medical intervention, it’s crucial to undergo acupuncture and dry needling under the supervision of a licensed practitioner to ensure proper technique and minimize potential risks.

7 Sages Acupuncture and Herbs is headed by Kim Le-Nguyen, a licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine herbalist providing integrative health care to Orange County, CA. She obtained my Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine at South Baylo University and has received numerous clinical and academic excellence awards.

She loves working with fertility cases, balancing women’s health, helping those suffering from any pain, and working with cosmetic Acupuncture.

She uses a treatment strategy that provides logical, precise, and effective stimulation of distal acupuncture points, thereby avoiding aggravation of local areas of pain. She specialize in difficult-to-treat, chronic conditions.​

Her Optimal Fertility Balance Program helps men and women achieve their dream of having a healthy, happy baby.


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Experience Dry Needling | West Bay Chiropractic Clinic.

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“How Physical Therapy Can Ease My Knee Arthritis” (Concierge Pain Relief - Home Physical PT Near Me).

Lou, Yingying, et al. “Electroacupuncture Pre‑Conditioning Protects from Lung Injury Induced by Limb Ischemia/Reperfusion through TLR4 and NF‑κB in Rats.” Molecular Medicine Reports, 2020,

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