is dry needling better than massage

Is Dry Needling Better Than Massage? [2023]

Dry needling and massage are two popular modalities used in physical therapy and other healthcare practices to address musculoskeletal pain, tension, and dysfunction. Both approaches aim to alleviate discomfort and improve function by manipulating the body’s soft tissues. However, there are significant differences between dry needling and massage, and the effectiveness of each may vary depending on the individual and their specific needs.

What is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is a technique that involves inserting fine, sterile needles into trigger points or tight bands of muscle tissue to release tension and improve circulation. Trigger points are areas of muscle tissue that are hyper-irritable and can cause pain, discomfort, and decreased range of motion. By inserting the needles into these trigger points, the therapist can cause a twitch response, which helps to release the tension and restore normal muscle function.

dry needling

Dry Needling

Dry needling is often used to treat conditions such as chronic pain, muscle spasms, headaches, and sports injuries. The technique is based on the principles of Western medicine and is often performed by physical therapists, chiropractors, and other healthcare professionals who have received specialized training in dry needling.

What is Massage?

Massage therapy involves the manipulation of soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia, to improve circulation, reduce tension, and promote relaxation. There are several different types of massage, including Swedish, deep tissue, sports, and trigger point therapy. Each type of massage targets different areas and uses different techniques to achieve the desired result.

massage therapy

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is often used to treat conditions such as chronic pain, stress, anxiety, and musculoskeletal injuries. The technique is based on the principles of Eastern and Western medicine and is often performed by licensed massage therapists.

Dry Needling vs. Massage: Which is Better?

The effectiveness of dry needling and massage will depend on the individual and their specific needs. Here are some key differences between the two modalities to help you decide which may be better for you:

Targeted Approach

Dry needling is a highly targeted approach that aims to release tension and alleviate pain by directly stimulating trigger points in the muscles. Massage therapy, on the other hand, uses a more general approach that involves manipulating the entire muscle or muscle group to promote relaxation and improve circulation.

Pain Levels

Dry needling may be more effective for individuals with high pain levels, as the technique can provide immediate relief by releasing tension and promoting circulation. It can, however, be quite painful at times. Massage therapy may be more suitable for those with lower pain levels or those who prefer a more gentle approach.

Treatment Goals

The goals of dry needling and massage therapy may also differ. Dry needling is typically used to target specific areas of pain or discomfort and may be more effective for individuals with acute or chronic injuries. Massage therapy, on the other hand, may be used to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.

Time Commitment

The time commitment for dry needling and massage therapy will also vary. Dry needling is typically a shorter treatment, as the therapist only needs 15-30 minutes to insert and manipulate the needles. Massage therapy, on the other hand, may require a longer treatment time to adequately treat the soft tissues.

Risks and Side Effects

Both dry needling and massage therapy have minimal risks and side effects when performed by a trained professional. However, dry needling may be more likely to cause bruising or soreness in the area where the needles were inserted. Massage therapy may also cause soreness, but this is typically due to the manipulation of the soft tissues and will subside within a few days.


Both dry needling and massage therapy are effective treatments for soft tissue injuries. Talking to a practitioner before getting the treatment is a good way to understand how it works and which option might work better for you. Both these treatment modalities are offered at Encompass Sports Therapy. If you are interested or have questions about either, give the clinic a call to discuss which treatment might be right for you.