What’s the difference between Medical Acupuncture, Dry Needling and Traditional Acupuncture?

Medical acupuncture, dry needling and traditional acupuncture – which one to choose?

Acupuncture practice is getting a little confusing. It seems like many other therapies and clinic types are adopting some type of needle insertion for health.

The great thing is, almost everyone is in agreeance that acupuncture treats a range of conditions and benefits health – that can’t be a bad thing!

But if you are someone looking for the right type of acupuncture treatment (which I assume you might be if you are reading this!), it can get a little tricky. So I’ve summarised the three most common acupuncture practices with their pros and cons below.

Medical Acupuncture

This type of acupuncture is practised by a qualified medical doctor. On top of their extensive medical training, they complete between 10-20 hours of training in acupuncture practice. They mainly treat musculoskeletal conditions and some internal health conditions like reflux, constipation, headaches and migraines.

Pros – often cheaper or even bulk billed in certain clinics, treated by a trained medical doctor, good option for simple pain conditions like low back back, neck pain, heel pain

Cons – limited conditions to treat, reductionist view of health (not holistic), clinic setting is not generally as warm and relaxing as a traditional acupuncture clinic, not ideal for conditions like infertility or pregnancy

Dry Needling

Dry needling is probably the most controversial of the acupuncture-type practices. You may unaware that in July 2012, Acupuncture became a registered profession. This means we are now under the same registration as medical doctors, physiotherapists, nurses and chiropractors.

This also means that ‘acupuncture’ is a protected title, meaning you can’t use it to describe your needle insertion practice unless you have had minimal 4 years training in an approved degree program. The only exception to this, is of course the Medical Acupuncture.

So any other professions like remedial massage therapists, physiotherapists or chiropractors who don’t have this training, but who do use a type of needle insertion practice, need to call in dry needling.

Many acupuncturists have a problem with other professions using dry needling. I don’t. I think it’s a great technique to use for pain conditions. It is a very specific technique of inserting needles into trigger points. It can be very painful which is why I don’t like to do this to my clients.

Pros – good for musculoskeletal pain conditions like knee pain, low back pain, neck pain, often practised by qualified registered practitioners (physiotherapists, chiropractors)

Cons – often painful, reductionist view of health (not holistic), can’t treat internal conditions like fertility, pregnancy or digestive complaints, can be expensive if treated by registered practitioner

Traditional Acupuncture (Chinese)

This type of practice is the original acupuncture practice. Almost every Asian country has a history of some type of acupuncture practice. There is some indication that it has been around between 2000-5000 years.

It is based on a really complex understanding of the balance of energies between our bodies and the environment. And changes to this balance results in health concerns. Acupuncture works on correcting this energy imbalance.

Pros – practiced by practitioners with minimum four year degree in Chinese medicine and acupuncture, holistic view of health, can treat a broad range of conditions, treats all conditions from their root imbalance, preventative healthcare system, great for internal conditions like fertility and pregnancy, clinic setting perfect for helping you relax

Cons – can be expensive without private health in Australia, some conditions can take between 1 and 3 months to treat.

I actually can’t think of any more cons! They may be because I don’t find there are anymore. Of course I am a bit biased but I chose this practice as a career for this reason.

So there is nothing BAD about the other practices, they all have their strengths and weaknesses and I wanted to give you the information to help decide which one to choose for your health complaint.

Always happy to hear from you if you have any feedback on your experience with the different types of acupuncture practice.

Registered Acupuncturist and clinic owner of Gold Coast acupuncture clinic, The Point of Wellbeing