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  • Writer's pictureGlenn Charbonneau, P.T.

Dry Needling (IMS) Vs. Acupuncture

What is dry needling, and how is it different from acupuncture?

Dry needling and acupuncture are treatments that both involve inserting thin needles through the skin with the attempt to treat pain and promote recovery.

Acupuncture was originally developed as a part of Chinese medicine to bring patients back to equilibrium by needling specific points of the body. A session may involve inserting multiple needles at different depths, with use of either occasional twisting or application of electricity to the needles for a number of minutes. In more recent years, some acupuncturists utilize concepts of conventional neurophysiology with their practice.

Dry needling, also known as intramuscular stimulation (IMS), refers to the insertion of a monofilament needle into the skin and underlying muscles without injection of material. The technique involves moving the needle within the muscle for a number of seconds with intention to produce muscle twitches. Patients often report decreased pain, and improved movement either immediately or within a couple days of treatment.

Triggers points, felt as localized taut bands of muscle are often the target with dry needling. Studies suggest that needling has a strong influence on resetting the nervous system, increasing local blood flow and eliciting chemical changes associated with healing the system. Dry needling can have a significant effect on reducing pain; therefore, increasing the patient’s ability to participate with their exercise program and overall obtain better results with their recovery.


Chou L-W, Kao M-J, Lin J-G. Probable Mechanisms of Needling Therapies for Myofascial Pain Control. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2012;2012:705327. doi:10.1155/2012/705327.

Dunning J, Butts R, Mourad F, Young I, Flannagan S, Perreault T. Dry needling: a literature review with implications for clinical practice guidelines. Physical Therapy Reviews. 2014;19(4):252-265. doi:10.1179/108331913X13844245102034.

Gattie ER, Cleland JA, Snodgrass SJ. Dry Needling for Patients With Neck Pain: Protocol of a Randomized Clinical Trial. Eysenbach G, ed. JMIR Research Protocols. 2017;6(11):e227. doi:10.2196/resprot.7980.

Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2016;4:CD007587. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007587.pub2.

Qin Z, Zang Z, Wu J, Zhou J, Liu Z. Efficacy of acupuncture for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndromes: study protocol for a randomized, sham acupuncture-controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016;16:440. doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1428-y.

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