Dry Needling vs Acupuncture

As both Dry Needling and Acupuncture use the same needle, the two can be easily confused.  Physiotherapist need to do further study (beyond that of their university degree studies) to be qualified to safely perform either Dry Needling or Acupuncture.  There has been growing evidence to support the use of both these modalities for acute and chronic back pain, chronic neck pain, tension type and migraine headaches, pelvic girdle pain, knee osteoarthritis, lateral elbow pain and shoulder conditions (Australian Physiotherapy Association, 2016).  At Central Baldivis Physiotherapy your therapist will tell you which technique they are qualified in and which they would recommend for your particular condition or injury.

Although there are many benefits to both Dry Needling and Acupuncture, it is important to note these are one of the many treatment tools we use.  Studies have shown treatment with a combination of other treatment methods like exercise prescription can better reduce pain and improve physical condition.

Dry Needling

In early 1930’s Dr John Kellgren discovered injecting saline into muscles produced a distinct pattern of pain in areas away from the location of the injection.  This distinct pattern of pain is known as myofascial pain.  In the late 1930’s Dr Janet Travell, a cardiologist from USA developed Dr John Kellgren’s discovery and found that injection of the needle alone was able to relieve the pain over tender muscles without the injection of saline. This contributed to the beginning of dry needling.  (Kellgren JH: Referred pains from muscle. Br Med J 1: 325–327,1938.; Travell J, Rinzler SH. The myofascial genesis of pain.)

Dry Needling is based on neurophysiological principle and western anatomical approach.  This technique, also known as intramuscular stimulation is used to treat muscular pain and myofascial dysfunction.  By inserting a needle into the skin, nerve fibers are stimulated which releases chemicals from the body that stimulate inhibitory pain responses (Unverzagt C., Berglund K. & Thomas J., 2015).


Acupuncture has been thought to date back 5300 years.  There is evidence of acupuncture treatment on the body of Oetzi the “Tyrolean Iceman” in the Otzal Alps in Austria, whose body was discovered by two German hikers.  The perfectly preserved Iceman had health related tattoo markings over his back and legs which are thought to be indicative of acupuncture or acupressure points corresponding to those documented in Chinese origins of Acupuncture in 200-100BC. (Dorfer, L; M Moser, F Bahr, K Spindler, E Egarter-Vigl, S Giullén, G Dohr, T Kenner (September 1999). “A Medical Report from the stone Age”)

Based on traditional Chinese Acupuncture, the workings of the human body are controlled by a vital force or energy called ‘Qi’.  This Qi circulates between organs along channels called meridians.  There are twelve primary meridians thought to control major functions and/or organs of the body.  Qi must flow in the correct strength and quality through each meridian to maintain optimal homeostasis (Unverzagt C., Berglund K. & Thomas J., 2015).  Blockages or imbalances in these channels can cause illness or pain.  Acupuncturists uses needles to reposition and redirect the flow of Qi to restore this balance.

If you would like to learn how Dry Needling and Acupuncture may assist you, or whether it is an appropriate treatment option for you, please make an appointment with one of our physiotherapists.