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Dry needling versus acupuncture: the ongoing debate
  1. Kehua Zhou1,2,
  2. Yan Ma3,4,
  3. Michael S Brogan5
  1. 1Department of Health Care Studies, Daemen College, Amherst, New York, USA
  2. 2Daemen College Physical Therapy Wound Care Clinic, Daemen College, Amherst, New York, USA
  3. 3Division of Interdisciplinary Medicine and Biotechnology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  4. 4Internal Medicine and Sleep Center, Eye Hospital, China Academy of Chinese Medical Science, Beijing, China
  5. 5Department of Physical Therapy, Daemen College, Amherst, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kehua Zhou, Department of Health Care Studies, Daemen College, 4380 Main Street, Amherst, NY 14226, USA; kzhou{at}


Although Western medical acupuncture (WMA) is commonly practised in the UK, a particular approach called dry needling (DN) is becoming increasingly popular in other countries. The legitimacy of the use of DN by conventional non-physician healthcare professionals is questioned by acupuncturists. This article describes the ongoing debate over the practice of DN between physical therapists and acupuncturists, with a particular emphasis on the USA. DN and acupuncture share many similarities but may differ in certain aspects. Currently, little information is available from the literature regarding the relationship between the two needling techniques. Through reviewing their origins, theory, and practice, we found that DN and acupuncture overlap in terms of needling technique with solid filiform needles as well as some fundamental theories. Both WMA and DN are based on modern biomedical understandings of the human body, although DN arguably represents only one subcategory of WMA. The increasing volume of research into needling therapy explains its growing popularity in the musculoskeletal field including sports medicine. To resolve the debate over DN practice, we call for the establishment of a regulatory body to accredit DN courses and a formal, comprehensive educational component and training for healthcare professionals who are not physicians or acupuncturists. Because of the close relationship between DN and acupuncture, collaboration rather than dispute between acupuncturists and other healthcare professionals should be encouraged with respect to education, research, and practice for the benefit of patients with musculoskeletal conditions who require needling therapy.


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