ADM Ottawa Physiotherapy | Bells Corners | Montfort
Acupuncture session in a Japanese medical study

What is the Difference Between Dry Needling & Acupuncture?

Dry needling and acupuncture are two methods of treatment, which might seem similar at a first glance but are fundamentally different. One is new and the other dates from ancient China and they both serve the purpose of making us feel better.

If you have ever wondered how is dry needling different from acupuncture, you have arrived at the right article. Keep on reading and discover a few facts on each treatment technique, as well as pros and cons. 

What is dry needling?

What does dry needling do? The procedure involves the insertion of sterile, fine-filament needles into muscles, more specifically, in muscle knots. The physiotherapist identifies myofascial trigger points, which are actually muscle fibers that have been damaged and remained in a shortened position.

Pain, inflammation and a reduced range of motion can accompany the presence of muscle knots. They are common in those who have suffered an injury, or maintain a posture for prolonged periods. Nerve impingement, sudden movements or intense training represent potential causes.


  •     Relief from pain in target areas, improvement of joint function
  •     Reduced risk of future injuries
  •     Improved flexibility – overall range of motion increased
  •     Relief from tension and inflammation
  •     Healing process facilitated, recovery is faster


  •     Risk of side-effects, such as spotting, bruising or local discomfort
  •     Risk of infection if non-sterile needles are used
  •     In rare cases, complications – radial nerve injury, punctured lung, hematoma.

And what about acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of treatment dating from ancient China, which is also based on the insertion of thin needles into the skin. The treatment is performed to balance the body’s energy, known as Qi, into meridian points.

It is said that this treatment technique will bring back the balance of the “yin” and “yang” (imbalance equals illness). The Qi flows through meridians, which can be accessed through specific points in the body. The procedure is beneficial for any musculoskeletal needs. Some of the benefits include reduced pain, reduced inflammation and decreased nerve symptoms such as numbness, burning or tingling.


  •     Decreased pain intensity, especially in case of chronic, nerve-related pain, resistant to other forms of treatment
  •     Safe procedure, reduced risk of side-effects
  •     Relief from chronic pain


  •     Skin bruising, soreness or bleeding (local)
  •     If inserted too deep, complications can occur – e.g. collapsed lung

How do dry needling and acupuncture differ?

Both treatment techniques rely on the use of needles, and the main goal is to improve health. However, dry needling is focused on providing pain relief and restoring muscular function, working on myofascial trigger points.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, intends to treat a number of health conditions, often affecting internal organs, by restoring the flow of energy throughout the body. In order to restore this balance, the needles are placed at key points (there are 350 acupuncture points in the human body).

In conclusion, dry needling and acupuncture are different treatment techniques, serving the common purpose of improving our health. While dry needling concentrates on myofascial trigger points and the conditions associated with them, acupuncture is based on meridian points and the restoration of energy flow into the body. For more information on dry needling and acupuncture, contact our team at ADM Ottawa Physiotherapy for more details.