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  • Writer's pictureAva Thu Nguyen

What is the difference between Acupuncture and Dry Needling?

Acupuncture and dry needling both involve the insertion of fine needles into the skin, but the theory and purpose behind each technique can be vastly different. What amplifies this confusion, is when people (including unqualified practitioners) refer to dry needling as the same as acupuncture, when this is far from the truth. In this post, we will dive into why acupuncture and dry needling are not the same and why the terms should not be used interchangeably.

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What is the thoery behind acupuncture and dry needling?

The Theory Behind Dry Needling

Dry needling is a technique that is soley focused on relieving musculoskeletal related pain (1). With the understanding that musculoskeletal pain can be associated with active and latent myofasical trigger points (MTrPs), a hyper-irritable spot in a taut band of skeletal muscle fibres (1). Active MTrPs have spontaneous pain or pain in response to movement, while latent MTrPs are sensitive spots with pain or discomfort in response to compression only (1).

Dry needling uses fine, solid filiform needles targeting these areas of MTrPs through intramuscular stimulation with these needles (1). This technique of needling is what physiotherapists, remedial massage therapies, myotherapists and chiropractors would be utilising (1).

The Theory Behind Acupuncture

The premise behind acupuncture is based on Traditional Chinese Chinese Medicine (TCM), with acupuncture being a branch of the medicine. Acupuncture also utilises thin filiform needles, but instead of targeting myofasical trigger points (MTrPs), acupuncturists work along acupuncture points on the 'channels' of the body (3). Traditonal ideas suggest that any imbalances in the body are due to an imbalance in the flow of 'life force' within the body, with the goal of the needling to bring the flow back into balance (3). More modern research has found that the channels mentioned in traditional texts, correlate to the path of the bodies nervous system and therefore the techniques used in acupuncture may some part be due to nervous system activation (3).

Acupuncture is a method that can be used for musculoskeletal conditions, but also a huge array of other conditions, including but not limited to, musculoskeletal conditions (e.g. lower back pain, neck and shoulder tension) , chronic migraines and headaches, women's health, digestive imbalances, insomnia etc. (4,5).

With the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) holistic medicine framework, acupuncturists also see the body and its systems as a whole and therefore also may include TCM dietetics, herbal medicine, lifestyle and environmental considerations in the treatment plan to support ones body back to balance.

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Qualifications required for acupuncture and dry needling

Qualifications Required for Dry Needling

To be able to perform dry needling a short course which involves 24 hours of face to face training with a total of 80 nominal /online hours of learning is required. The minimal required to be able to attend a dry needling course is a certificate in remedial massage.

Qualifications required for Acupuncture

To perform acupuncture, a minimum study of 3-4 years full-time of study with the completion of a Bachelor of Health Science (Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine) (2). That's right, it requires a Bachelor's level degree that is required - so important to check this with anyone who "claims" they are performing acupuncture.

Since Chinese medicine is a holistic medicine the use of acupuncture is not limited to just musculoskeletal conditions, but many different health ailments. It can also be utilised in conjunction with Western Medicine frameworks as an adjuct therapy (4, 5).

The Acupuncture qualification addresses the following core areas/topics of study (2):

  • Acupuncture needling techniques

  • Anatomy

  • Cell biology

  • Chemistry and biochemistry

  • Classical literature in Chinese medicine

  • Clinical acupuncture studies

  • Diagnostics of Chinese medicine

  • History of Chinese medicine

  • Infection control

  • Introduction to human biosciences

  • Meridians and acupuncture points

  • Microbiology

  • Moxibustion and cupping/other stimulation methods

  • Neurophysiology of acupuncture

  • Pathology

  • Physiology

  • Principles of Chinese medicine

  • Professionalism and evidence-based practice

  • Research methods

  • Safe needling on critical points - For exmample: training to avoid complications such as pneumothorax occurring

  • Substantial clinical placements with assessments of learning outcomes

  • Western medicine diagnosis

What conditions can Dry Needling and Acupuncture support?

Conditions Dry Needling may Support

Dry Needling is purely used for musculoskeletal conditions. This includes but is not limited to, neck and shoulder pain, lower back pain, golfer's elbow, tennis elbow, sciatica etc. This is because the theory behind the needling is to resolve the trigger points within the muscles of the body that are contributing to the muscular imbalances.

Conditions Acupuncture may Support

Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, acupuncture may be utilised for the musculoskeltal ailments as per dry needling, but it may also be utilised for internal medicine. Some internal medicine conditions that acupuncture may support include, IVF fertility acupuncture, anxiety, chronic headaches and/or migraines etc. (4, 5).

Are you located in Brisbane, Australia and would like to explore acupuncture and Chinese Medicine?

Lang Acupuncture and Holistic Health is located in inner city, Brisbane. We have a focus on holistic healing and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with a strong emphasis in working alongside your doctors and specialists. We have a special interest in support women through their health journeys, from mentrual regulation, emotional wellness, stress management, fertility support, pregnancy support and so much more.

To book an appointment click here.

Brisbane Acupuncture
Our Brisbane Acupuncture Clinic


  1. Cagnie, B., Dewitte, V., Barbe, T., Timmermans, F., Derue, N. & Meeus, M. (2013). Physiologic Effects of Dry Needling. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 17(348). DOI: https://10.1007/s11916-013-0348-5 .

  2. Chinese Medicine Board of Australia. (2023). Assessment of Applications.

  3. Yang, E.S., LI, P., Nilius, B. and LI, G. (2011). Ancient Chinese medicine and mechanistic evidence of acupuncture physiology. European Journey of Physiology, 462(645-653). DOI: https://10.1007/s00424-011-1017-3.

  4. McDonald, J. & Janz, S. (2017). The Acupuncture Evidence Project. Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd. 1-84.

  5. Hullender Rubin, L.E., Opsahl, M.S., Wiemer, K., Mist, S. D., & Caughey, A. B. (2015). Impact of Whole Systems Traditional Chinese Medicine on Vitro Fertilisation Outcomes.  Reproductive Biomedicine Online, 30(6), 602-612.


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