The simplest answer to the question of whether dry needling is acupuncture is: Sort of. Dry needling is a form of acupuncture and sometimes practiced by physical therapists as well as acupuncturists. What distinguishes how we acupuncturists perform it is in the tools we use. We use tiny, filiform pins use (sterile, and one time use only). Physical therapists on the other hand, can legally use only syringe needles for each point. Unfortunately, the average patient perceives syringes to be incredibly uncomfortable.
The difference between acupuncture pins and syringes is this: When seen under a microscope, acupuncture pins are rounded at the end, and therefore part flesh rather than pierce it. This is why there’s no blood when the pins come out.
Syringes are, under a microscope, extremely sharp. They actually pierce the flesh, and the trauma creates some bleeding.
For this reason most people prefer to go to licensed acupuncturists when their MD suggests sending them for dry needling. Another reason is that acupuncturists don’t normally place the pins in the area of inflammation and pain. Our 4 years of training in acupuncture tells us that the greatest healing is done by placing pins away from the source of pain. Most physical therapists typically have 40 hours of training in acupuncture, and therefore have little recourse but to put the syringes in an area that is already compromised.
We hope this helps explain the difference between dry needling done by an acupuncturist, and that done by a physical therapist.