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How Does Acupuncture Compare With Dry Needling

Likely you have heard the term ‘dry needling’ and may have wondered how it compares, or relates, to Acupuncture.

Both procedures use needles. And while it ‘seems’ that in both techniques, the practitioner uses needles, the process and technique is actually quite different.

Acupuncture Technique

Acupuncture is the ‘combination’ of ‘ahshi’ needling. –  ‘meridian’ style Acupuncture (sometimes also called ‘distal point’ Acupuncture) and ‘ashi’ style Acupuncture.

Simply studying ‘meridian’ style Acupuncture really doesn’t prepare a person well to practice ‘ashi’ style and vice versa. Learning ‘meridian’ style necessitates the study of the signs and symptoms of dysfunction of the internal organs as described by the ancient Chinese. Tongue and pulse reading may also be important. But with ‘ashi’ style, anatomy is more pronounced.

Very thin, tiny needles are used for the needling, and the Acupuncture needling is often performed at the point of pain/ or the issue, but also often included are other more distant and adjacent points that can positively affect the area/health issue causing the patient problems.

Dry Needling Technique

In recent years there has been increased use of what has been termed ‘dry needling’ by physical therapists, osteopaths, doctors and members of other similar professions who are dealing with musculo-skeletal conditions.

‘Dry needling’ is a term coined by Dr. Janet Travell in the 1980’s. This term distinguishes between ‘trigger point injection’, where an anesthetic, or other substance, is injected into a’ trigger point’ (a tender focal area of tension within a muscle or other soft tissue), and simply piercing the ‘trigger point’ with a needle – ie ‘dry – needling’ – (hypodermic or filiform).

‘Dry Needling’ is predominantly comprised of Acupuncture techniques, primarily from the ‘Ming dynasty’. Trigger points and painful areas are needled with Acupuncture needles. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this is termed ‘ahshi’ needling.

The ‘dry needling’/basic ‘ahshi’ approach focuses specifically on the physical symptoms — but does not go any further to address and treat the root of patient symptoms, which Acupuncture would address. ‘Dry needling’ usually uses a filiform needle (an Acupuncture needle) and tender spots are needled (classically described ‘ashi’ points).

But regardless of the theory, ‘dry needling’ is an invasive procedure. The technique of dry needling frequently involves needling of muscular structures that may be deep and/or hidden under layers of other muscles and tissues and close to sensitive structures and organs including blood vessels, nerves and organs as, for example, the lungs.

‘Dry needling’ needle length can range up to 4 inches long in order to reach muscles being affected by pain. Patients receiving ‘dry needling’ can develop painful bruises after the procedure and adverse reactions might also include hematoma, pneumothorax, nerve injury, vascular injury and infection. As a more extreme situation, angling the needle incorrectly and, for example, a lung could end up being punctured. There have been several reports over the years of these types of issues occurring.

Differences in Training

Practitioners using needles but who are not ‘Acupuncturists’ use the term ‘dry needling’ because a medical provider can’t use the term of being a Traditional Chinese Medicine “Acupuncturist” unless they have studied Chinese Medicine at least a minimum of 4 years, which includes hundreds of hours of safe needle handling and aspect technique.

Other than actual Medical Doctors, often times some professionals who use the term ‘dry needling’ and include this technique in part of their practice may only have 24 hours of training (the current required number of hours to be licensed to perform ‘dry needling’ in Arizona).

Medical doctors will not have had the same 4 years of Chinese Medicine training as an Acupuncturist, however, they will have at least have had more classes, and a lot more exposure and involvement regarding issues of a person’s physical body.

And most medical doctors end up referring any patients who are in need of Acupuncture to professionals who are fully licensed Acupuncturists.

There is a huge difference in experience and training between someone being trained for only a minimum of 24 hours and someone who has spent at least 4 years being trained specifically in Acupuncture techniques and Traditional Chinese Medicine methodologies.

Question for patients to ask

If you are planning to be treated with needles by a professional other than a fully licensed and trained Acupuncturist, who has undergone 4 years of training, it is important to ask them, and find out, what sort of actual training and education the professional has had.


At Acupuncture Alternatives; Jim Burnis is licensed as an Acupuncturist, with more than 4+ years of education in Traditional Chinese Medicine ~~ all the needed/required education and training. Additionally he keeps current with continuing education annually.

Give us a call and let us know how we can help keep you on the ‘road to good health’.

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