How do you know when to get acupuncture over dry needling? Find out below!

When it comes to alternative therapies, both acupuncture and dry needling have their advantages, and even though they both use needles in their healing approach, their treatments and outcomes are much different.

At LiQian Acupuncture, we’re the leading acupuncture and dry needling clinic in Manhattan with two convenient locations — Broadway and East 68th Street! If you’re ready to commit to your health and wellness, learn how both acupuncture and dry needling have a place. 

Dry Needling And Acupuncture: Two Different Healing Modalities

If you were watching acupuncture and dry needling being performed next to each other, you might have a really hard time identifying which is which, after all, they look essentially the same! And while they both use needles to support health and healing, they both do it a little differently. 

The takeaway: Both acupuncture and dry needling use thin, needles that are inserted into the skin, but this is where the resemblance ends. 

When we’re talking about acupuncture, we’re referring to an ancient practice that has been used as a treatment method for thousands of years, while dry needling emerged in modern medicine only within the last couple of decades. 

Acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of health concerns ranging from digestive issues to infertility that is based upon opening energy blockages along meridians that also correspond to literal and figurative organs, while dry needling is superb for assisting sore and aggravated muscles.  

While an acupuncturist will always work with you to develop the best course of treatment, it’s important to know the differences between these two practices. 

Let’s explore them in-depth below. 

Dry Needling

The first thing to point out is that all acupuncturists can perform dry needling but those who practice dry needling are not licensed to practice acupuncture. 

So, if you go to a wellness clinic that uses dry needling and acupuncture interchangeably, ensure you see exactly what they’re licensed in. 

You’ll typically find dry needling practiced not only by acupuncturists but in PT, massage, and chiropractic offices. Because dry needling is a certification, it doesn’t require a huge time investment. And while the certifications vary (it’s not one standardized certification or governing body) a practitioner can be certified over a weekend course to up to six months of training.  

The training and education portion are some of the biggest differences when it comes to dry needling when compared to acupuncture, which we will touch on more later.

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is performed either by an acupuncturist or certified health professional where small needles are inserted into the skin. The needles are placed into what are known as trigger points, which is typically placed in sore muscles or tissue. If you’ve ever had a knot in your back that just won’t go away, dry needling will insert the needle where it is knotted in hopes to loosen and relax the muscle.     

When the needle is placed it will remain in your skin for a short length of time, ultimately depending on the practitioner. 

Another dry needling technique that you may encounter is called pistoning or the in and out approach. This requires the practitioner to insert and quickly remove the needle in a rapid fashion — this may be performed more around the area rather than in the trigger point. 

When is dry needling used?

Dry needling is often a go-to for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are experiencing localized pain in their muscles or soft tissue. It can also be of benefit for those who do repetitive motions and get sore muscles in one area. 

Not only does dry needling address sore muscles it helps improve range of motion and mobility. 

Dry needling is ideal for acute muscle pain but isn’t a solution for preventative or ongoing wellness measures. 

Are there any risks to dry needling?

Dry needling, for the most part, is extremely safe with the only side effects being bruising, bleeding, or temporary soreness. There is one serious issue that rarely happens, but it’s important to mention. There have been cases where patients have gone in for dry needling and the practitioner has caused a punctured lung (pneumothorax). This is why it is imperative for you to do a little research and learn more about the practitioner you’re seeing. 

One more thing to mention is that because licensed acupuncturists go through extensive schooling and log many hands-on clinic hours, they have the sweeping knowledge about lung punctures and how to properly prevent them. 

So, perhaps consider an acupuncturist who does both dry needling and acupuncture.   


Acupuncture differs from dry needling because it supports the body in a myriad of ways — not just muscle pain and soreness as dry needling covers.

Acupuncture has also been around for centuries and is classified as Eastern, Chinese, or Oriental Medicine. Those who are trained in Chinese medicine receive their Master’s degree and typically are in school for three to four years. 

In this time they learn a curriculum that not only covers acupuncture points and needle instruction, but also diagnosis and hands-on clinic hours. After their schooling is completed, they have to undergo rigorous testing through the national board to obtain their license. In addition, they have to maintain their licenses over the years with ongoing education.  

When is acupuncture used?

Because acupuncture aims to treat the root of the problem and address the individual as a whole, acupuncture can be used to treat a variety of symptoms and conditions. Most notably acupuncture is a great modality for the following:

  • Headaches
  • Allergies
  • Chronic and acute pain
  • Infertility
  • Emotional health 

What people don’t realize is acupuncture isn’t just acupuncture and there are many different forms and theories surrounding it such as:

  • Five elements acupuncture
  • Dr. Tan acupuncture
  • Japanese acupuncture
  • Auricular acupuncture

Acupuncture or Dry Needling?

At the end of the day, you can use both acupuncture and dry needling as a course of treatment in your wellness journey! While they’re used differently and for different symptoms and conditions, they’re both helpful!

To learn more about our dry needling and acupuncture treatments, connect with us today!