Acupuncture vs Dry Needling? What's the deal?

You may be asking yourself, “ what the heck is dry needling?” 

Or, you may be in the other camp that found their way to this post specifically searching dry needling in Newport Beach or Orange County.  

Very simply put, dry needling is a treatment for myofascial dysfunction and/or pain utilizing sterile, single use, stainless steel needles. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Acupuncture also employs the same tool to get the job done. Acupuncture is also widely used to treat myofascial conditions that cause acute and chronic pain.

So what’s the difference? 

That is a loaded question if there ever was one! Physical therapists or other health care professionals who provide dry needling will profess that dry needling and acupuncture could not be more different. Acupuncturists will often express the same sentiment.

They’re both right. Acupuncture and dry needling are very different from one another as far as their intent, training, lifetime and theory. However they are extremely similar when you consider the tool, the method of insertion in some cases, treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction.   

Let’s break down the basics and highlight some key features for each. 

First, Acupuncture. 

Acupuncture has been in practice for thousands of years. Diagnosis and treatment are based in traditional forms of medicine that evaluate the function and vitality of organ systems and how those systems may be affecting your overall health. Qi is one of the foundational principles of Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. Qi describes the force that sustains us, animates as and is a functional measure of one’s health and wellbeing. Qi is what distinguishes the living from the non-living. 

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Acupuncture points (often where needles are placed for treatment) reside along meridians. Meridians are invisible highways through which Qi travels. Each meridian has a parent organ to which it belongs. These highways function independently and interdependently with others. Disruption of the movement of Qi of a meridian affects not only that meridian and it’s corresponding organ, but others as well. 

These are some of the features of acupuncture that are drastically different than dry needling. 

Dry needling is relatively new on the scene and relies on orthopedic, neurological and palpatory findings to determine the presence of myofascial pain and/or trigger points. There is no Qi and  meridians are not held responsible for a patient’s symptoms. 

Educational requirements vary by state. In California an acupuncturist must hold a Master’s degree from an accredited university. In other states, dry needling is taught in physical therapy programs or may be learned from a variety of continuing education seminars that are made available to health practitioners such as athletic trainers, massage therapists, physical therapists and chiropractors. 

So here is how they are the same (or at least similar); 

Traditional acupuncture employs tender points where trigger points may reside. In TCM the theory is that these points may be where blood and qi have become stagnant and cause pain.  These points are referred to as “Ashi” points rather than “trigger points”. These tender points may be needled superficially, deep, kept stationary and retained for 20+ minutes, pistoned in and out and with or without electrical stimulation…..much like dry needling.  There is sometimes an involutary twitch in the muscle being needed….much like in dry needling. 

So which do you need? Acupuncture or Dry Needling?

This may just come down to your preference. Both treatment modalities can be safe, extremely effective methods for treating myofascial dysfunction and pain. 

If you are in California and you are looking for dry needling, you will have to find a provider who holds a masters degree in acupuncture or a medical physician who performs these treatments. Many acupuncturists prefer to practice acupuncture solely based on traditional methods - and that is great! But others will explore using treatment based on trigger point needling rather than traditional methods - or use a combination of both!

In our Newport Beach office, Dr. Pierce uses all methods and chooses which is best for each patient on a case by case basis. To find out if acupuncture, dry needling or a combination of the two principles is right for you, schedule an appointment! 

Graston Technique Enhances Chiropractic and Acupuncture Treatment Newport Beach

Graston Technique


Graston Technique is successful in effectively treating all soft tissue conditions, whether they are chronic, acute and even post surgical. The Graston Technique offers many advantages to the patient such as:

  • Decreases overall time of treatment

  • Fosters faster rehabilitation/recovery

  • Reduces need for anti-inflammatory medication

  • Resolves chronic conditions thought to be permanent

Changing the way soft tissue injuries are treated

Graston Technique is an innovative, patented form of instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization that enables clinicians to effectively break down scar tissue and fascial restrictions. The technique utilizes specially designed stainless steel instruments to specifically detect and effectively treat areas exhibiting soft tissue fibrosis or chronic inflammation.

Originally developed by athletes, Graston Technique is an interdisciplinary treatment used by more than 9,000 clinicians worldwide—including physical and occupational therapists, hand therapists, chiropractors, and athletic trainers.

GT is utilized at some 830 outpatient facilities and industrial on-sites, by more than 160 professional and amateur sports organizations, and is part of the curriculum at 38 respected colleges and universities.


Pelvic Floor Dysfunction and Pain

I've noticed this year (seemingly out of no where), I've has a lot of patients coming to me for treatment for conditions you may not typically expect a chiropractor or acupuncture provider to treat. One example is vertigo, but the most interesting has been patients with pelvic floor dysfunction.  I don't know what it is, but something is drawing them to me this year.

The human pelvis with some of the pelvic muscles and ligaments represented. 

The human pelvis with some of the pelvic muscles and ligaments represented. 

Pelvic floor dysfunction, simply put, is the inability to properly control the muscles of the pelvic floor (those which support the organs of the pelvis and control bodily functions). Often times this lack of control presents as abnormal contraction of the muscles in this region. Symptoms range from difficulty with bowel and bladder function, sexual issues, pain or pressure in the pelvic region and even lower back pain. In addition to the muscles that line the floor of the pelvis, deep hip rotators and hip flexor muscles, superficial gluteal muscles and ligaments of the pelvis can be involved as well as the pelvic joints themselves. 

This condition is commonly seen in postpartum women, but affects just about anyone, even men - often the result of an athletic injury or after prostate surgery. 

For a long time, people didn't seek treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction. However, it seems the tide is shifting, as it appears recently that more and more people are seeking treatment rather than just living in agony. This is fantastic, because until recently, the idea of pelvic physical therapy seemed odd to some folks, but it shouldn't. If you can have a contracture in your bicep and seek treatment for that, why shouldn't you for pelvic muscle contracture? (Understandably, the region is more vulnerable but the therapists who treat these conditions are professionals. It is important to seek out a therapist's reputation first, of course, and if possible get the referral from a doctor or friend you trust.) 

While I myself do not perform specialized pelvic physical therapy, I have received referrals from those professionals to have their patients get trigger point needling to enhance the therapy they are already doing. And I've seen some great results!  

For many of the patients I've treated, needling has really kicked their rehab programs to the next level - past passive therapy and pain management and onto meaningful active care! THIS IS THE GOAL!!! THIS IS WHERE THE REAL CHANGE HAPPENS!

and it is THRILLING me! 

Don't get me wrong, I love helping all kinds of people with all kinds of issues, not just the less talked about ailments, but, what I find really gratifying is that these patients lives are truly changed in the most fundamental ways when they get this condition under control. The fact my needles can aide that process makes me really happy. It's why I do what I do. 

It should be noted that trigger point needling performed in my office does not involve any internal pelvic muscle treatment or complete disrobing of the patient. Patient's are draped appropriately to their level of comfort and deep needling is applied to the accessible muscles of the pelvic region. I leave the more specialized treatment techniques to the therapists best suited to perform that. 

If you have questions contact us!

Is Plantar Fasciitis your "Achilles' Heel"?

You don't have to be a mythological warrior to have this weakness.

If your first few steps every morning cause the kind of pain that reminds you that you are, indeed, a mere mortal, then you may be suffering with Plantar Fasciitis. 

Plantar fasciitis/fasciosis is an overuse injury characterized by pain in the sole of the foot. This pain is typically most pronounced during your first few steps in the morning and walking after long periods of sitting. People with flat feet or extremely high arches may be more prone to this injury. 

Untreated, plantar fasciitis can become chronic and due to altered gait due to pain in the foot, you may begin to experience pain in the ankle, knee, hip or low back. 

Dr. Pierce has been successfully treating patient's with plantar fasciitis in her Newport Beach chiropractic and acupuncture office for more than 5 years. Some patients reporting complete resolution of their heel and foot pain in as few as 3 visits! Through a combination of manual therapy including Graston Technique, myofascial release, joint mobilizations and rehabilitative exercise, you can get on to the road to recovery quickly. Dry needling is also extremely helpful to effectively reduce tension in the heel and calf muscles, which may be largely contributing to your foot and heel pain! 

Heel and foot pain doesn't have to be something you just "live with". Make your appointment today and start on your road to recovery! 

Acupuncture for Migraines

If you suffer with headaches, there is a good chance you've tried just about everything to relieve them. Migraine sufferers are usually left with few effective options; sleep it off and/or medications. 

Acupuncture is a safe and often very effective treatment option for headaches, whether they be migraine, sinus or tension. (Or for some people, a combination of these types). 

To inquire about how acupuncture, chiropractic, cupping, Graston technique, massage therapy or rehabilitative exercise may help relieve your headaches, call the office or book an appointment online NOW!