Acupuncture & Dry Needling 101

Acupuncture & Dry Needling 101

Acupuncture and dry needling can both be useful treatment techniques for addressing muscle and joint issues. Although they use the same tool (a sterile, fine, disposable needle), the principles behind the two techniques are slightly different. Below, we will review some of the similarities and differences between the two.


Acupuncture is the insertion of a fine disposable needle into the skin at specific points on the body to achieve a therapeutic effect.

How does it work?

Traditional Chinese Acupuncture works on the principle of balancing energy in the body using specific points along the meridians. Working with a more Western approach, it works on an anatomical basis to help decrease pain by stimulating the release of endorphins, enhancing the body’s natural healing ability, promoting a decrease in inflammation, increased circulation, and relief from pain in the area being treated.

What will I feel?

Many people report hardly feeling acupuncture needles when they are inserted. When stimulated, the needles may produce a sensation that feels like a heavy, achy pressure which Chinese medicine refers to as de qi

How many sessions will I need?

Many people start to see effects within one to two treatments, but some take longer, like five or six sessions to respond, depending on their condition

Dry Needling

Dry needling is a procedure where an acupuncture needle is inserted into the skin and muscle aimed at myofascial trigger points (without medication or injection). Trigger points are irritable, hard “knots” within the muscle that often cause pain and limit function.

How does it work?

Dry needling improves pain control and reduces muscle tension, which will ultimately help speed the active rehabilitation process. The needle is inserted into a painful trigger point to create a local twitch reflex which decreases muscle contraction, reduces chemical irritation, improves flexibility, and decreases pain. The body also treats the needle as a foreign invader and activates a response from the immune system to stimulate healing in the area.

What will I feel?

Dry needling is intended to produce a local twitch response which can elicit a brief, painful sensation which is often described as a deep ache or cramping feeling. This is a normal and desirable reaction as the therapeutic effect of dry needling is related to this local twitch response (see above).

Following treatment, many patients will report soreness that lasts for a few hours up to a day or two. Your physiotherapist can advise about what to expect more specifically and how to best manage any soreness you may experience.

How many sessions will I need?

That depends on the nature and severity of trigger points being treated – your physiotherapist can discuss this with you following a thorough assessment. Ideally, improvements will be noted even after the first treatment session (eg increased range of motion, easier movement, less pain).


If you are wondering if acupuncture or dry needling might be right for you, speak to a physiotherapist who is trained to provide this type of treatment. They can advise whether you might benefit from this type of treatment based on your specific condition.


Acupuncture Canada. (2018). Acupuncture 101 . Retrieved from Acupuncture Canada:

Painful and Tender Muscles: Dry Needling Can Reduce Myofascial Pain Related to Trigger Points Muscles. (2013). Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 635-635.

Physiopedia Contributors. (2017, June 6). Dry Needling. Retrieved from Physiopedia:

One Response to “Acupuncture & Dry Needling 101”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. You explained acupuncture and dry needling in a way that is easy to understand. I can’t wait to try it out.

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