What’s the difference between dry needling and  acupuncture?

As an Osteopath, I often get asked ‘what is main difference between dry needling and acupuncture?’

Both dry needling and acupuncture involve inserting a fine needle into the skin and either repetitively inserting then removing, or leaving in the skin for up to 10 minutes. The needles can vary in length and gauge but most are as thin as a strand of hair.

Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as chi or qi (pronounced “chee”) – believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.’ (The Mayo Clinic 2018.)

Whilst the theories behind acupuncture and dry needling may be different, both have the common goal of reducing pain and improving function.

Dry needling may be considered a subset of acupuncture and has evolved more recently.

Dry needling targets the myofascial tissues with the aim of increasing blood flow to the area, strengthening ligaments and tendons, and stimulating muscle spindles. The proposed mechanism of dry needling involves neural control mechanics (signalling between the tissue, nerve, spinal cord and brain) in order to decrease tissue tension and improve range of motion.

Like many evidence-based treatment methods, there is evidence to both support and reject the use of acupuncture and dry needling. One systematic review found that acupuncture (and dry needling) are clinically effective in pain relief and functional improvement for chronic low back pain in the short term (Liu et al 2015).

At Melbourne Osteopathy Sports Injury Centre, we offer acupuncture through our Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, If you think acupuncture or dry needling might help your symptoms, please don’t hesitate to book an appointment online or contact us to discuss further:


The Mayo Clinic (2018). Acupuncture. Retrieved from

Liu, L., Skinner, M., McDonough, S., Mabire, L. & Baxter, G. (2015). Acupuncture for low back pain: an overview of systematic reviews. Doi: 10.1155/2015/328196