Acupuncture vs Dry Needling — (Health Coach's Advice)

Acupuncture vs Dry Needling from A Health Coach S Advice on Needle Therapy and Why It Is Legal

As the head of the wellness coach team at Find It Health, I aim to inform and educate you on the differences between acupuncture and dry needling. 

Both these procedures can be used to relieve muscle tension and spasms by inserting needles at specific points of the body. However, acupuncture has a wider-ranging application in effective pain and stress management. 

Our research team compares acupuncture with dry needle therapy and explains the pros and cons of the latter below:

Acupuncture vs Dry Needling from A Health Coach S Advice on Needle Therapy and Why It Is Legal

Dry Needle Therapy vs Acupuncture

Both dry needle therapy and acupuncture involve the use of thin filiform needles to help relieve muscular pain, spasms, knots and other similar conditions. Both these procedures make use of dry needles without any fluid to target several stimulation points in the body.

However, both therapies have several clear differences as well. 


While dry needle therapy is one of the newest techniques in Western medicine, acupuncture has been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries.

Dry needle treatment focuses on inserting a sterile needle into the target point to relax the knots and tension in the muscles. On the other hand, traditional acupuncture uses specially designed acupuncture needles to restore the flow of energy or qi through the body as in the case of fibroids


Regarding the technique of both procedures, a single needle is inserted into a single tight muscle group at one time in dry needle treatment, but in acupuncture, multiple needles are inserted according to the energy meridians in the body

In acupuncture, the needles are left untouched for 20-30 minutes. However, in dry needle treatment, the dry needling therapist handles the monofilament needles throughout the process.


Lastly, dry needle therapy is based on treating neuromuscular issues while acupuncture has been used to treat many physical and mental ailments like carpal tunnel, fibroids, vertigo, and tinnitus.


Why Is Dry Needling Illegal?

Acupuncturists have proper knowledge about needles and their target points in addition to months of training and a certified license, but a large number of physical therapists performing dry needle therapy do not. Dry Needle therapists claim that dry filament needles are not like acupuncture needles which is why they can do the procedure without any training or license.

Consequently, it can endanger the health of the patients.

So, although dry needle treatment is legal in many states, it is illegal in states which do not accept general healthcare practitioners performing the procedure without proper knowledge and certificates.

States That Have Declared Dry Needling Illegal

All the different types of acupuncture are legal in all states of the USA. However, dry needle therapy is considered illegal in many states like California, New York, Washington, Hawaii, and Oregon. Moreover, some states like Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are yet to give an opinion about the legality of dry needle therapy.


What Happens When Dry Needling Hits A Nerve

In dry needle therapy, the needle punctures the skin and penetrates the subcutaneous tissues and muscles. During this, it might hit a nerve, especially when the therapist is not fully trained. So, it results in some side effects given below.


As the nerve carries pain and temperature sensations, the first thing a dry filament does by hitting a nerve is immediate and severe pain or temporary soreness.

The pain subsides after a while and treatment can be resumed. 

Sensory Disturbances

Dry Needle Therapy can also compress a nerve under the muscle resulting in mild to moderate sensory disturbances like stinging, tingling, numbness, and discomfort.


Hitting the nerve can also result in permanent damage. It results in paralysis of the muscle group or tissues supplied by that nerve. This paralysis can be complete or partial. 

Duration of Such Effects

The disturbance caused by irritation of a nerve with the needle does not last long. The needle is taken out as soon as any discomfort occurs and the body is allowed to relax. The treatment is continued after the resolution of symptoms of the needle hitting the nerve.

Post-Treatment Weakness

In some rare cases, you do not immediately feel the damage caused by the needle. However, it can lead to weakness of limbs, dropping of objects from hands, electric shock-like sensation, and sharp pain.


Pros and Cons Of Dry Needling

Before you book your dry needle physical therapy session, you must be aware of its pros and cons.


Following are the advantages of dry needling that can make you choose it.

  1. Reduction of Pain

Dry needling technique can alleviate acute or chronic pain. It can also treat neck pain, muscle pain, knee pain, and ankle pain. Additionally, it relieves the spasm of specific trigger points that are causing pain.

  1. Treatment of Musculoskeletal Conditions

Regular dry needling sessions can boost the healing of musculoskeletal injuries, especially sports injuries. It does so by initiating muscle twitch response, improving blood flow to the tissue, and stimulating myofascial trigger points.

  1. Soothing Inflammation

Dry needling practices can also be used to treat inflammatory conditions like tendonitis, stress fracture soreness, and arthritis. Dry needles enhance the out-flow of inflammatory mediators and in-flow of healing hormones at the site of inflammation.

  1. Effective in Recovery

As dry needling reduces pain and soothes inflammation, it is helpful in boosting the healing response and recovery in sports and musculoskeletal injuries. Additionally, it can be combined with other treatments like physical therapy to enhance their effects.

  1. Feasible Therapy for Neuro-muscular Issues

Dry needle therapy is a minimally invasive procedure that can target specific areas of the body. Moreover, it is quick and does not affect your routine. Thus, it can be used in neuromuscular conditions effectively.


Although it is a beneficial process, dry needling is not without side effects. Following are its disadvantages.

  1. Discomfort

Discomfort is the first of its common side effects to occur. While triggering the twitch response and stimulating the muscles, dry needles can produce discomfort which subsides with time.

  1. Nerve Irritation

Nerve irritation occurs when a needle hits the nerve accidently. It causes side effects ranging from mild to severe in intensity. In most cases, these side effects are mild and do not need much attention. However, they can become severe in rare conditions.

  1. Allergic Reactions

People with sensitive skin might have their allergies triggered when the needle moves in. Moreover, the use of non-sterile needles can lead to infections as well.

  1. Bruising

As the needle punctures the skin, it can lead to redness, bruising, or swelling around the area of therapy. This is more common in people with connective tissue disorders or delicate skin.

  1. Muscle Soreness

As this technique incorporates the needle into the muscle and stimulates it, it can cause muscle soreness as well. It occurs about 24 hours after a session and is temporary.

Who Can Perform Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a safe procedure as long as it is done by a skilled therapist. However, people unfit to do this procedure can lead to the above-mentioned side effects. Only a licensed acupuncturist or a physical therapist with a proper certificate of dry needling training can perform it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better: Acupuncture vs Dry Needling?

While both procedures are effective in painful conditions, their effects are not the same. Dry needling is a modern treatment with limited research while acupuncture is a conventional treatment with proven results.

Additionally, dry needling is only useful in fibromyalgia pain, neuromusculoskeletal pain, and similar conditions. In contrast, acupuncture treatment can be used for pain, anxiety and stress, digestive disorders, allergies, exercise fatigue, and more.

So, acupuncture takes the lead in needling vs. acupuncture even though the cost of acupuncture is substantial.

Is dry needling legal in California?

The legality of dry needling in California depends on who is performing this skin-pricking treatment. If a trained and licensed acupuncturist or doctor is performing it, needling is legal and safe. However, under-trained physical therapists without any license are not allowed to take part in dry needle therapy. 

Is dry needling legal in New York?

New York is one of the states that bans dry needling. So, just like in California, dry needling is not legal in New York if it is performed by a physical therapist with inadequate training. However, an acupuncturist with 2500 hours of needling experience or a doctor with 300 hours of dry needle or acupuncture training are allowed to do this procedure. 

Who should not get dry needling?

Although dry needling is effective in treating many conditions related to pain and spasms, not everyone is suitable for this treatment. Pregnant ladies should never be candidates for dry needling. Furthermore, people with needle phobias, suppressed immune system, and skin disorders like dermatitis should not try dry needling. In such people, dry needle therapy can prove to be more harmful than useful.

What is dry needling most effective for?

Dry needling is used in the treatment of medical conditions that involve muscle, tendon, or joints. So, it is most effective in myofascial pain syndrome, musculoskeletal pain, neuromuscular pain, injuries, and muscle knots.

Moreover, people with recurrent episodes of acute pain or chronic pain are mostly benefited from this therapy when used in conjunction with other conventional treatments.

Can acupuncture release muscle knots?

Yes, acupuncture can release muscle knots and relieve the muscles spasm. As a needle is poked into the skin along the meridian lines, the muscles are stimulated, tension is decreased, blood flow is increased, and proper function of muscle tissue is restored. Consequently, muscle knots are released.


Conclusion – Research by

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Dry needle therapy differs from acupuncture in the methods used and the goals of the treatment. While dry needling is more focused on muscle and joint pain, knots, and stiffness, acupuncture works on balancing the energy of the body and treating the multiple conditions caused by this imbalance. 

Dry needling can cause skin irritation, bruises, discomfort, and muscle soreness. So, it is best to be cautious and go for well-recognized clinics for this therapy. Furthermore, several states of the USA have banned dry needling for the side effects caused by the incompetence of the therapist. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Stay tuned for more content. 


Find It Health Editor in Chief Luz Chacon Health and Wellness Coach Giving You Advice

Luz Chacon

Luz Chacon is a Health Educator, Wellness Coach, and EFT Tapping Practitioner with 30+ years in health advocacy. Specializing in stress management, wellbeing, and holistic health, she created a 40% stress reduction employee program. Luz is dedicated to helping busy individuals prioritize self-care, break patterns, and reach goals. She offers programs for organizations and individuals. Luz is passionate about sharing her health research and guiding informed choices!

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Luz Chacon Health Coaches at Find It Health and Stress Management and Natural Holistic Health Coaches