If you have a long enough conversation about acupuncture you’ll come across this question: does it really matter where the needle goes? People have lots of different opinions. If you’ve had acupuncture you may have wondered this yourself. After all, I’ve had many people ask me: If that needle was moved an inch, would it still work?
It’s true that some effects of acupuncture don’t depend on location. Your body will release its own endorphins and alter blood circulation no matter where the needle is placed. That’s simply because that’s how your body responds to foreign objects piercing the skin. But some effects of acupuncture are very specific. Mostly when you want to impact the nervous system, you have to be specific. So in some cases and conditions placement of the needle is important, while for other problems you have a little more room.
Some research has been done looking at the difference between acupuncture that pays attention to location (verum) and acupuncture that doesn’t (sham). Early research showed that verum and sham acupuncture weren’t any different. But as studies have gotten more precise, and mimic more how clinicians think and work, we find that verum acupuncture is a lot better. Most recent studies are like this one – the more specific the needles are placed, the better the results.
What this means for You
Now that you know this, so what? First, pay attention to what your acupuncturist is doing. If your acupuncturist is taking care their time to feel for the exact location they want, that’s a good sign. If they appear to be rushing through the treatment (and it isn’t because they’re really busy) that might impact how good your results are. Second, think about this when it’s recommended that you get dry needling. If you go for dry needling, is your PT being accurate with their needle placement? Can they find the point they want without a lot of extra movement or pain involved?
As in most professions, accuracy matters. Make sure you’re getting the care that gets good results. If you’re not getting that now, consider a second opinion. We just want to see you get better – simple as that.