Updated: Dec 2, 2021
The short answer is no but the longer answer is: Acupuncture and dry needling practitioners use the same needles and sometimes the same needling points but they think about things differently. Acupuncturists will base their treatment on the Traditional Chinese Medical model of balancing the 5 elements with regard to our qi. Dry needling practitioners are unlikely to do the same unless they have training in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Dry needling is described as the insertion of a monofilament needle into soft tissue. Simply put. The needles are small and thin and most of the time you can barely feel them! Some people will use the needles simply as a trigger point release but there is all kinds of benefits to the nervous system that can come from utilizing an integrative, holistic approach to dry needling. Integrative approaches are focused on changing our nervous system and decreasing neuroinflammation. Often, practitioners will follow nerve pathways and place needles along this path as well as in areas of the spine where the nerves originate.
There is a lot of research on the effects of acupuncture but not much with regard to dry needling as it is new to the western medical zeitgeist. People report improvements in pain, bowel bladder, dizziness, anxiety, depression, and even progressive neurologic diseases like Parkinson's. Read on for the way I describe my dry needling treatments that I developed as part of my chronic pain or dizziness treatment.
I utilize the needles as a proprioceptive input to help align brain and body. Think of it as a neurologic tune up where you have your circuits reconnected and calibrated. I needle points where the needle is near a nerve but far enough away that it doesn’t touch it. Your brain will register this input and you will start to feel sensation. Most people feel relaxed but some will feel tingling or a deep ache known as the “de qi” sensation which indicates that your brain is not quite sure about that area of the body and needs time to refine its view. As the brain gains a more refined perception of the body the ache will decrease and be replaced by a calming sensation as the sympathetic nervous system down regulates and the parasympathetic nervous system up regulates. People who do dry needling will find that they get relief from trigger points, improved spinal alignment, improved anxiety and depression, improved digestion and a sense of lightness.