More and more people are hearing about a technique called dry needling. In the United States it is often given by physical therapists for pain management as part of a rehabilitation plan. So what exactly is dry needling, and how can it help people?
In dry needling, a small filiform needle is inserted into a trigger point and vigorously manipulated to break up the adhered fascia that is causing pain. Originally hypodermic syringes were used that had no medication in them (hence the ‘dry’ in ‘dry needling’), but over time acupuncture needles have started to be used instead as these are easier on the patient.
Dry needling is a portion of what makes up acupuncture. (This means that every acupuncturist can dry needle.) In fact, acupuncturists have a specific Chinese term for it: ashi acupuncture – the needling of tender areas. Many times on this blog we have talked about the local effects of acupuncture, specifically how acupuncture changes connective tissue, reduces inflammation, and stops pain. These are the effects that dry needling is specifcally looking to achieve. But acupuncture can do more than just work locally at a tender area. By using a needle to trigger different parts of the nervous system acupuncture can have far-reaching effects that dry needling alone does not replicate. Acupuncture can make a person more resilient to stress, improve digestion, curb or eliminate an allergic reaction, regulate the menstrual cycle, and much more. Dry needling can do none of these things.
The reason acupuncturists are able to do these things with a needle and other therapists (such as PTs) can’t comes down to the differences in professional training. Both acupuncturists and PTs get extensive training in anatomy and physiology, but after that the training diverges. PTs focus a lot on exercises, movement therapies, and kinesiology. Acupuncturists focus on holisitic assessment and treatment, and while our background knowledge base is ancient we use modern research and knowledge of physiology to broaden our clinical ability. PTs are typically not interested in this background, and they lose a lot of versatility when it gets thrown out.
So when looking at treatment options, should a patient get dry needling from a PT or acupuncture from an acupuncturist? Mostly it will depend on what the patient needs. The more that comprehensive, in-depth care is needed, the more acupuncture is appropriate over dry needling. Also, patients should consider the amount of training their PT has in dry needling. Acupuncturists have many years of training in needling alone and do it daily. PTs often take weekend courses. I will leave it to you to judge how much training you want your provider to have when you entrust them with your health.
If you’re considering acupuncture and dry needling, schedule your consultation with us or call our office to get a better idea of your options. We want the best for you, no matter where that comes from or who delivers.