Simply put: Dry-Needling is Acupuncture!
I find myself being asked frequently about dry-needling by current & prospective patients. It's heartening that folks ask me about dry-needling as I believe it's instinctual to them that an acupuncturist would be an expert in regards to needling. And they are 100% correct!
Since this blog is geared towards patient education & (hopefully) providing useful information, I aim to steer this article more towards education than soap-boxing.
Dry-needling was a term instituted by an MD who used empty (and therefore "dry") hypodermic syringes to stimulate muscle trigger points. Today, the term dry-needling is still used, although acupuncture (filiform) needles are the preferred tool. You may also hear dry-needling called "trigger point needling" or "intramuscular manual therapy".
Most commonly, dry-needling is terminology being used by Physical Therapists (PTs) & occasionally by Chiropractors (DCs) & Physicians (MDs) to describe the type of needling they are performing. Currently, dry-needling by PTs is not allowed in California, Idaho, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, & New York, with other states such as Oregon & Washington currently restricting the practice by PTs. To date in Kentucky, this is a common practice amongst Physical Therapists & my concern surrounds the practice of dry-needling & training of the practitioners providing this therapy.
Depending on the type of practitioner, their training may be next to minimal. This is not stated in an attempt to frighten, but rather inform the public & also demonstrate where Licensed Acupuncturists are the experts. A practitioner of dry-needling may take a 1 - 3 day course in needling that may or may not have been hands-on or maybe even online only. As a Licensed Acupuncturist, I had nearly 1,000 clinical hours: meaning hands-on experience, & that does not even include the amount of time spent in class, studying, & in needling technique classes. I learned from other Licensed Acupuncturists, many of whom have spent a lifetime practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Dry-Needling or Trigger Point Needling is often aggressive & may cause bruising & soreness. As an aside, one of the most common "side-effects" of acupuncture is minimal bruising that may occur at the site of needle insertion. However, acupuncture is not generally painful, nor does it leave a significant amount of bruising. There may be times where a tender point (traditionally called an "a shi" point in TCM) in a muscle is needled & there may be times when needling to release a hypertonic muscle is what a patient needs. On the other hand, there are times when such direct & aggressive needling would not be beneficial or might exacerbate the situation. Does the dry-needling practitioner have other ways of treating such a patient? In TCM, we diagnose our patients as individuals & treat them as such. We have different acupuncture points selected for different patterns. As an example, a patient who comes in for acute neck pain & has injured themselves recently, might receive a very different treatment than a patient with long-standing, chronic neck pain. As a matter of fact, the patient might not even have acupuncture needles placed in their neck, but elsewhere to disperse the pain. Traditional Chinese Medicine & acupuncture is so much more than just physical manipulation of musculature & putting needles into tender places, but it DOES include that type of needling as needed.
Traditional Chinese Medicine & acupuncture are thousands of years old & require viewing the body & mind as a whole. TCM focuses on all aspects of health & there is truly no way to separate the muscles, ligaments & tendons from the functioning of our organs, brain, thoughts, & emotions. Because TCM treats the whole body, it can help pain relief last longer, & even help with other aspects of health. Many patients report improved sleep, mood, digestion, even lower blood pressure & stress levels.
As a licensed professional, I respect the education, knowledge & experience of other health providers & practitioners. As such, I believe it's necessary to give respect where respect is due. Dry-needling is an aspect of acupuncture & TCM that has been "stripped down" & removed from the fundamental philosophies behind it. Licensed Acupuncturists are clearly the experts when it comes to understanding the foundations of needling & the nuances behind different ways of needling, when to needle where & how.
If you have questions about dry-needling & how acupuncture can help you, please let me know. Here's to your health! - Holly Christiansen, Licensed Acupuncturist at Bluegrass Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine in Lexington, Kentucky.
About the Author:
Holly Christiansen, Licensed Acupuncturist, currently practicing in the gorgeous, horse capital of the world: Lexington, Kentucky.