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Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: The Main Differences

Dry needling and acupuncture both involve inserting needles into the skin, but dry needling is primarily used to target trigger points in muscles for pain relief, while acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine principles and aims to rebalance the body's energy flow.

Trigger Point Dry Needling

Dry needling is the insertion of an acupuncture needle into a musculartrigger point. It is called “dry” because nothing is injected through theneedle.

In dry needling, trigger points are located and treated directly. Triggerpoints are taut bands within the muscle bulk. These tense points can decreasethe muscle’s ability to relax, reduce the muscle’s range of motion, as well asits ability to generate strength. They can be caused by muscular overloads,such as a traumatic injury, heavy lifting, repetitive movements, holdingpositions for long periods or from periods of muscle disuse or immobility.

Pain from trigger points is often described as deep, aching, burning andspreading.  Trigger points within aspecific muscle generally have specific referral patterns, meaning if you havea trigger point in one of your rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder, the painwill be in specific and predictable locations of the shoulder and arm.

In dry needling, the needle is inserted and pistoned up and down overthe area of the trigger point. Unlike acupuncture, the needles only stay in thebody for seconds instead of minutes. The goal is to release the trigger pointsby getting the muscle to “twitch.” This twitch response reduces the painchemicals and signals in the area and opens the muscle up for increased bloodflow. This change in the muscle can decrease overall pain, restore musclefunction and range of motion.


Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine that has beenaround for over 2,500 years. It is described as a practice for balancing theflow of energy, known as qi (chee), believed to flow through pathways(meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along thesemeridians, acupuncture is believed to remove energy blockages and balance yourenergy flow, which helps to regulate your emotional, mental, and physicalhealth.

In many Western practices, acupuncture is explained from a neurologicalperspective.  The acupuncture points areplaces where muscles, connective tissue, and nerves can be stimulated. Theneedles create “micro-traumas” that spontaneously cause the body’s naturalability to heal by promoting blood flow and releasing endorphins (naturalpainkillers). People generally don’t feel the insertion of the needles at all.There may be a dull ache or tingle that quickly fades. The needles are left infor up to twenty minutes.

Acupuncture can relax shortened muscles, releasing pressure on jointstructures, tendons and nerves. It also reduces both the intensity and perception of chronic pain. 

By stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest,rather than fight or flight), acupuncture helps to reduce stress. The overalleffect is reduced inflammation, pain relief and restored homeostasis.

Physiotherapists who perform acupuncture or dry needling have takenadvanced post-graduate courses and are “rostered” with the College ofPhysiotherapy in addition to being registered.

While similar needles are used in both techniques, the manner andlocation in how they are used are different. Both techniques involve theinsertion of thin needles into the body at specific points and can improve painand function.

It is our hope that our clinic will offer youan escape from your busy lives and sports to provide a place where you cantruly let go of, and heal from, pain and injuries. We believe in finding andtreating the cause of your symptoms and not simply treating your symptoms.

Our goal is simple – to provide the highestquality of therapeutic care, while making a positive difference in people’slives.

Call us at 613-672-2200 or visit online at to bookyour next appointment.

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