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Traditional Acupuncture or dry needling...

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

What’s the difference?

Knowing the difference between theses two modalities could help you choose which one is right for you.

Acupuncture needles in back.

Many people understandably get confused between dry needling and acupuncture. I have seen lots of patients who tell me that they have had ‘acupuncture’ in the past and it has worked well for them. Often though, it turns out that they have actually had a 'dry needling’ treatment from a physical therapist and not traditional acupuncture. So when I talk to them about traditional Chinese acupuncture and the diagnostic methods used (like pulse taking and tongue diagnosis), they sometimes seem intrigued (if not a little confused).

There is no reason why one should be considered as inferior or superior, both modalities have their place in health care. It really depends on your requirements. To help you understand the differences and choose which is most appropriate for you, here's a quick guide...

Acupuncture needles. Acupuncture treatment


  • Practised in China and the far east for thousands of years, initially as the main form of health care and more recently in conjunction with Western medicine.

  • One of the longest established forms of healthcare in the world. It originated in China approximately 2,500 years ago and is now practised across the globe.

  • Training in the UK is at degree level and lasts between three years (full time) and four to five years (part time)

  • Is subject to Local Authority Licence and Registration

  • Acupuncturists are regulated by governing bodies such as the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) - 'the leading self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture in the UK’

  • The BAcC requires its members to be trained in both traditional acupuncture and relevant biomedical sciences

  • Is based on scientific research and uses an evidence based approach* (see link below)

  • Fine filiform needles are inserted into specific acupuncture points along channels mapped out on the body

  • The focus is placed on the individual, rather than an isolated complaint

  • Physical, mental and emotional aspects are all considered within the diagnosis

  • Is used to address a variety of conditions such as (but not limited to) -

    • Migraines

    • Menopause symptoms (hot flushes; night sweats; anxiety etc)

    • Anxiety

    • Depression

    • Insomnia

    • Period pain (dysmenorrhea)

    • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    • Acne

    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

    • Many pain conditions due to musculo-skeletal issues

Acupuncturist with needles. Trigger points. Dry needling. Medical acupuncture

Dry Needling (sometimes also called ‘western' or 'medical acupuncture')

  • Is usually carried out by Physiotherapists; Osteopaths and some Sports Therapists or Soft Tissue Therapists.

  • Training varies from a two day course and is open to most physical therapists (or students) but some Physiotherapists undertake a 300 hour post-graduate training course

  • Fine filiform needles are inserted into ‘trigger points’ - an area of compromised muscle tissue, aiming to release the surrounding soft tissues.

  • Practitioners base their treatments on the scientific research and clinical evidence that Acupuncture can reduce pain by stimulating the brain and spinal cord to produce natural pain-relieving chemicals.

  • Is subject to Local Authority Licence and Registration. This means that the Physical Therapist who provides dry needling usually needs to be registered with the local authority

  • Is mainly used to treat and relieve pain conditions and is very effective in relieving pain from minor muscular and soft tissue injuries such as -

    • Frozen shoulder

    • Sciatic pain

    • Back pain

    • Neck pain

    • Musculo-skeletal pain

In my clinic, when faced with a musculo-skeletal issue, I will often use a combination of the two approaches when addressing muscular pain and discomfort, actively seeking out the trigger points causing the pain whilst at the same time addressing the underlying causes based on traditional Chinese medical theories.

For more information or general enquiries, use the contact form to get in touch, or feel free to browse through the information below on the individual fact sheets for the above mentioned conditions.

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