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Dry Needling vs Acupuncture: a perspective

Do acupuncturists practice dry needling? Short answer - yes. Dry needling is the insertion of acupuncture needles (yes, they're the same needles) into trigger points on the body, usually in the belly of a muscle or other knotted area. If you’ve ever had an acupuncture treatment this should sound familiar. Trigger points are just acupuncture points that have been targeted by trained, professional acupuncturists for over 2,000 years.

However, in recent years (and not in all states), dry needling has become a convenient pseudonym for select other medical professionals to use in order to practice acupuncture with as little as 12-24 hours of training, often with little to no hands-on training or supervision. There is no standardized curriculum, no independent accredited training programs, nor independently administered competency exams.

What could possibly go wrong?

By comparison, acupuncturists receive AT LEAST 1,365 hours of acupuncture-specific training: including 705 hours of didactic material and 660 hours of supervised clinical training. This is in addition to at least 450 hours of biomedical training and the passage of 5 independently reviewed, validated and reliable tests to ensure minimal competency in safe needling technique. I like to tell my own patients seeking reassurance regarding safety that in some needle technique classes we would fail the class on the spot if our insertion angle or depth was minimally off. That’s how serious the potential risks are if one is not properly trained. 

Do I refer to physical therapists and chiropractors? Absolutely. For physical therapy and chiropractic adjustments respectively. 

Circling back to my original question: do acupuncturists perform dry needling? Yes. Just with vastly more training, better comprehensive results, safer and with a license to provide acupuncture.


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