Acupuncture vs Dry Needling

“Getting dry needling and thinking you’ve had acupuncture is like going KFC and saying you had chicken.” – Lonny Jarrett, Master Acupuncturist

I did my acupuncture training at the only school in the country that teaches dry needling as part of their core curriculum. This technique was integrated into the program over 3 years, so I learned it very well. I’ve also learned many other tools and needling techniques, both in school and in my post-graduate training. I have found that, while dry needling does work for certain conditions, it’s quite painful. And because I’m able to get the same or better results with more gentle techniques, I’ve mostly stopped using it.

Yea – But What IS Dry Needling?

In a nutshell, dry needling is the use of a solid filiform needle to stimulate tight muscle knots (or trigger points) with the intent of getting a “fasciculation”, or “local twitch response”. The practitioner finds a tight, tender spot, inserts a needle into it, then manipulates the needle until the muscle jumps. It is usually performed by a physical therapist, chiropractor, doctor or nurse, with variable amounts of training.

Dry needling is used by these practitioners to manage pain. It is an adjunct therapy being used along with pills, injections, joint and spine manipulations, or strengthening and stretching exercises. In order to legally practice dry needling, a practitioner must attend a seminar. These seminars are usually 1 or 2 weekends long. If it’s something the practitioner wants to specialize in, he or she may do more training.

How Is Acupuncture Different?

Basically, dry needling is a very small part of what acupuncturists do. We also find tight, tender muscle knots and release them with the same kind of filiform needle. However, we also use our 3-5 years of education in both Western AND Eastern medicine to diagnose and treat your entire being. Acupuncture can treat not only muscle pain, but also pain due to nerves, discs and bones. And, it treats more than just pain.

Acupuncture is one modality that makes up East Asian medicine. This form of medicine has been used, and been continuously updated, for thousands of years with amazing results. Herbal medicine, diet and lifestyle choices, qi gong exercises, cupping, gua-sha, and moxibustion are all used together with acupuncture to get even better results.

So Which One Should I Choose?

Of course my personal bias is that everyone should get acupuncture instead of dry needling! However, the answer isn’t as simple as that.  The question you should really be asking yourself is “Which practitioner is best for me?”

You see, the most important part of getting better is to find a practitioner (or several) that you resonate with. You want to feel comfortable telling them your issues, and build up trust. In addition, you want to make sure to find a practitioner that is licensed and well trained (of course!) and can treat what you have in a way that feels comfortable to you.

How Do I Find A Practitioner?

So, if you’ve got pain, or another health issue you’re looking to resolve, start by researching a few practitioners and asking them some questions. Is she licensed? Does he follow Clean Needle Technique (a very important safety issue when we’re working with needles)? What techniques do they use, and how much training have they had with that technique? Does she have experience treating your condition?

Once you’ve talked to a few practitioners, go in for a trial treatment. Does he or she make you feel comfortable? Does he listen to you and make you feel heard? Does she explain what she’s going to do and how it should feel? Do they keep up dialogue during treatment so you know what to expect? Can your practitioner adjust the technique to your comfort level?

It is possible to find an acupuncturist, or even someone using dry needling, who does all these things. But unfortunately, there are acupuncturists, chiropractors, physical therapists and others who you won’t feel comfortable with. And if that’s the case, it’s time to find a new practitioner.

Both acupuncture and dry needling have their benefits, but it’s up to you to do the research on the individual practitioner and decide what’s best for your needs.


Elizabeth Williams is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of Dragonfly Acupuncture & Massage, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.