• Fiona Lampman, R.TCM.P

Acupuncture, Dry Needling, and IMS: What the heck is the difference?

Updated: Aug 9, 2019


Let’s start off with Dry Needling:


Dry needling, growing in popularity, is a modern treatment with to goal to ease muscular pain. Dry Needling is defined as the insertion of needles into tender points (trigger points or areas of knotted or hard muscle) in the body without the injection of substances. That is why the term “dry” is used. Typically, dry needling is used to treat musculoskeletal pain. During dry needling, a practitioner may insert several filiform needles (acupuncture needles) into the skin. Dry needling is also sometimes called intramuscular stimulation (IMS).


The function behind dry needling is that the needle helps release the knot and relieve any muscle pain or spasms. The needles usually remain in your skin for a short period of time. The length of time depends on the practitioner.


Some healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors receive some training in dry needling as it has been added to their scope of practice by their regulatory board depending on which province or state you live in. Currently, healthcare practitioners who preform dry needling don’t need extensive training. Usually they can obtain a dry needling certificate within one weekend of training. Though it doesn’t currently have guidelines for practice, safe dry needling practices will be standardized as more research becomes available.


Mild side effects are very common with dry needling but serious side effects are rare. The most common side effects around the injection site include:

• Bruising, swelling, bleeding

• Numbness, tingling, soreness


Other serious but more rare side effects are:

• Dizziness, fainting

• Nerve damage

• Stuck or broken needle

• Aggravation of existing condition

• Spontaneous miscarriage

• Pneumothorax or other organ puncture


Since dry needling doesn’t have a provincial board examination, but only weekend certifications, there is more concern about these side effect than when seeing a registered acupuncturist.


Now let’s talk about acupuncture:


Acupuncture is a form of medical treatment that’s been used for hundreds, possibly even thousands, of years. These days, acupuncture is practiced by thousands of registered acupuncturists in British Columbia. Acupuncturists train for three to four years including foundations in diagnosis, treatment strategies, and thousands of clinical hours.


In addition to this training, acupuncturists must undergo testing from a national board of examiners and are required to continue to take instructional courses each year to maintain their license.


Acupuncture is used to treats hundreds of conditions and symptoms, including:

• Most types of pain

• Headaches, migraines, insomnia

• Allergies, respiratory issues, low immune, skin issues

• Digestive issues

• Period issues, fertility concerns, women’s health, pregnancy and labour issues

• And more!


If performed by a trained and registered acupuncturist, side effects and risks are very rare. Occasionally, some may experience the same side effects of dry needling.


Hope that has helped clear things up! Please feel free to email if you have any further questions.


#acupuncture #IMS #dryneedling

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