FAQ article: Dry Needling and Acupuncture – What’s the Difference? (Video)

Informative Video

This amazing acupuncturist, Marie Hopkinson in Perth has produced a video talking about the frustrations of many acupuncturists in relation to other types of practitioners practicing Dry Needling.

Misinformation and Misappropriation of Acupuncture

A lot of misinformation is currently appearing about the “powers” of Dry Needling and many Dry Needlers are misappropriating acupuncture techniques, but using different terminology, without the rigorous training that acupuncturists have to undergo as part of their preparation to practice.

Dry Needling is a musculoskeletal modality that is commonly used as an adjunct to other musculoskeletal therapies. It is extremely similar to a type of acupuncture that we call, “Ah-Shi”, where the practitioner needles at the site of musculoskeletal pain.

Acupuncture & Dry Needling – The same thing?

Yes and no.  Yes, from the standpoint that needle insertion to relieve pain is common with both procedures, No from the standpoint that Dry Needlers work on a different, less holistic philosophy than acupuncturists.  Yes, from a risk management perspective, No from the perspective of educational requirements and clinical practice standards. Acupuncture has recently been identified in research from New Zealand as “overlapping” with myofascial release points.

In some studies, needling therapies, including acupuncture AND Dry Needling, are assessed together, rather than separately, for mechanism of action (ie; how it actually works).  Acupuncturists have argued for the last decade or so that Dry Needling is Acupuncture by another name.  This is because Ah-Shi points can be anywhere on the body where there is pain – thus they correspond directly with the myofascial release points used in Dry Needling, and any place at all upon the body.

Advertising guidelines

Acupuncturists, as well as all other individuals and organisations who advertise health services, are bound by specific guidelines which outline exactly what we are permitted to claim that our services do, based on current scientific evidence.  These guidelines are in place to protect the public so that they cannot be misled or inadvertently taken advantage of during a vulnerable time. We are informed by AHPRA that there is insufficent evidence to make safety & efficacy claims for acupuncture, even when decades of clinical experience and several thousand years of case reports attest to the contrary.  Because case reports rate low in the heirarchy of evidence – and because studies have been directed to other topics like pharmaceutical trials, these are not deemed worthy of a second look.

Anyone practicing Dry Needling who claims it is “safe and effective” is as much in contravention of ACCC guidelines as an acupuncturist would be if they said the same thing.  Any Dry Needler who tells you that Dry Needling can heal or cure any disease or health issue without scientific support in the form of systematic review is legally seen as creating an inflated sense of potentially positive outcomes for their modality and is also in contravention of the ACCC guidelines.


Short, 2-day Dry Needling courses are offered to Physios, Remedial Massage therapists, Chiros, GP’s and Osteos. Myotherapists also practice Dry Needling but learn in greater detail as part of their qualification and practice under supervision whilst studying.

Because Dry Needling is not a regulated modality, any person at all can do a 2 day course and advertise their services without protection to the public by any government body.

This contrasts dramatically with Registered Acupuncturists, who require a minimum education standard for accreditation, outlined on the CMBA website. It equates to Level 7 of the Australian Qualification Framework – a Bachelor degree.

Infection control

During a 4 year, full time Bachelor qualification in Health or Applied Science in Australia, acupuncturists undergo at least 200 hours of supervised clinical training under the scrutiny of experienced practitioners who can provide advice, observe and correct diagnosis and treatment techniques.  Additionally, we spend at least one semester studying infection control and are rigorously trained in what is known as “clean needle technique”, in accordance with infection control guidelines which cannot possibly be taught during a 16 hour workshop.  We are taught Western physiology alongside Chinese Medicine theory and spend many hours studying surface anatomy to avoid causing harm to patients.

Registration & regulation

Every properly trained acupuncturist in this country is required to be registered with the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia (CMBA) – the regulating body who negotiate, create and update guidelines for acupuncturists to follow, in order to protect our patients from inexperienced, untrained and unqualified people who may cause harm.  The guidelines are enforced and publically submitted complaints are investigated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). These bodies exist for the protection of the general public who utilise health services in Australia, and they are funded by the Federal Health Department.

Dry Needling is not regulated by AHPRA.  So if anything goes wrong and patients have complaints the onus lies with legal or insurance-based claims.  There is currently no adverse event reporting in place for issues that occur during Dry Needling treatments by individuals who are not registered with AHPRA. So if something goes wrong, there is no system in place to protect patients.

Professional Associations

Acupuncturists are required to join professional associations in order to obtain provider numbers for private health insurance claiming.  The strongest representative force for acupuncture & Chinese Medicine practitioners is the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA).  There are several other smaller and less vocal associations and together, with their collective representation, acupuncturists have been lobbying for inclusion in the Medicare Chronic Disease Management Program.

Book a session with an experienced, registered acupuncturist



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