So what exactly is all the fuss with “Dry Needling”?
Dry needling is a term that has hit the news a lot lately and is reported to be a new and “unique” technique designed to specifically target and restore muscle function, with an emphasis on improving tissue healing and restoring normal tissue function. But, in fact, it is the same technique that has been used by licensed acupuncturists for literally THOUSANDS of years for the very same benefit.
A little history: Dry needling was introduced by Janet Travell, MD, in her 1999 book Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: Trigger Point Manual. Rather than using acupuncture needles, Dr. Travell started using hypodermic needles, which are bigger and, she surmised, more effective. The needles Dr. Travell used were empty, hence the term dry needling. Today, MDs, PTs, and Chiropractors employ this dry needling technique and often use traditional acupuncture, or solid filiform, needles to do so. Their method, they state, focuses solely on muscle (myofacial) pain, as needles are placed into trigger points in the muscles causing an immediate “release” of the trigger point. Dry Needling, they surmise, is targeting muscle pain and is not to be confused with Acupuncture.
Sound familiar? In the language of the acupuncturist, this technique is called needling of Ah Shi (tender) points, also known as trigger points; different names, same purpose and technique.
What’s the difference between Dry Needling & Acupuncture?
Simply put, dry needling forces a mechanical relaxation of the muscles at the trigger point. This elementary treatment focus has many limitations and only utilizes just ONE of the techniques used in Acupuncture treatments.
Dry needling treats symptoms while acupuncture address underlying causes of pain. The best approach does not rely on trigger points alone, and alternatively, sometimes trigger point treatments are not necessary at all. If you’re only having ‘dry needling’, you are missing out on most of what a licensed acupuncturist has to offer.
So do acupuncturists offer something more?
Absolutely. There is much more to acupuncture than the insertion of needles into tender points. Often the tender point will return if the underlying cause is not identified and addressed. Quality acupuncture practice involves comprehensive patient assessment, an acupuncture diagnosis and an individualized treatment plan. Appropriate needling methods and supplementary treatment can then be designed to match the patient’s circumstances. Acupuncturists combine both a traditional understanding of the body from a Chinese medicine perspective with modern innovations from current research; so in addition to methods such as needling, cupping and moxibustion, acupuncturists may use exercise therapy, massage techniques or electro- or laser- stimulation of acupoints. Some may also include Chinese herbal medicines or other health modalities such as Western herbalism. This comprehensive approach results in a holistic diagnosis and treatment plan.
What’s the difference in levels of training?
A Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc), or Acupuncture Physician (A.P.) is required to have a minimum of 4 years (nearly 3,000 hours) of post graduate training in the science, art, and techniques of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. To practice in the state of Florida, licensed acupuncturists must sit for an extensive national board exam given by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), and then meet the requirements of the Florida Board of Acupuncture to qualify for state licensure. These regulatory boards are put in place specifically to guard the public health and safety by ensuring that all persons practicing any type of medicine, including acupuncture, are properly trained and educated. It is imperative that courts and medical bodies maintain and preserve strict standards of education and training in acupuncture before any person undertakes inserting a needle into a patient. An ill-trained practitioner could, as a result of lack of education or ignorance, cause substantial medical injury.
On the other hand, a person who practices Dry Needling is not required to complete any training or even state regulated testing. You heard me: no formal training. In the US, most practitioners of dry needling have a working knowledge of the musculoskeletal system but have not been trained on needle insertion or technique. They will, in turn, complete a short dry needling training program (often running for just two or three days) for certification. These courses offered are just enough time for people to gain a rudimentary understanding of how to ‘needle the point that hurts’ and perhaps deliver short-term symptom relief. They are then given a certificate of completion, not a state regulated license, and are allowed to immediately distribute their new found knowledge to the masses. These practitioners tend to be chiropractors, physical therapists, MDs, or DOs and will use the term “dry needling” in lieu of calling it acupuncture
What is Dry Needling Effective for?*
• Achilles Tedonitis
• Shin Splits
• Plantar Fasciitis (Foot Pain)
• IT Band Syndrome
• Hamstring Strain
Neck and Shoulder Pain
• Disc and Nerve Problems
• Neck Pain
• Rotator Cuff
• Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
• Upper Back and Shoulder
Low Back and Hip Pain
• Low Back Pain
• Herniated or Bulging Disc
• Hip Bursitis
What is Acupuncture Effective for?*
The same as Dry Needling plus much more including:
- Fertility Assistance
- Hormone Balancing
- PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
- Digestive disorders
- Bells Palsy
- Post surgical recovery, postoperative pain
- Quit Smoking
- Weight loss
- Allergic Rhinitis
- Stroke recovery
*Results may vary
The type of practitioner you choose for your care is certainly up to you. Many of the practitioners that simply hold a certificate in acupuncture (DCs, PTs, MDs, DOs) can most definitely learn to be skillful in the art of dry needling, Trigger Point Therapy, and possibly the very complex ancient Oriental “meridian” therapy, but true competency comes from a thorough education and years of daily practice, not just occasional use. Naturally, I support the practice of approved acupuncture techniques administered by licensed and trained acupuncturists.
As dry needling becomes a more mainstream procedure you’re likely to hear more about it. But due to its limitations, acupuncture will always be a more viable treatment option for both internal disorders as well as musculoskeletal pain. As the Acupuncture Physician at Health Pointe Jacksonville, I am well versed in the ancient art and science of traditional practices as well as modern techniques and will prescribe the course of treatment that best suits your individual needs for fast results with the highest quality of care.
Call (904) 448-0046 to to discuss how acupuncture can help you or to schedule your appointment now!