Many people want to know what’s the difference between dry needling and acupuncture and what do they offer? North Boulder Physical Therapy is here to help explain it. As you know, the search for pain relief brings us to therapies from all over the world. Learning about therapy styles is important to us so that we can pass along information to our patients and potentially find new ways to treat your pain and help you restore function.
Developed over 5000 years ago, acupuncture is based on the idea that health is affected by a balanced flow of chi, which is believed to be the vital life energy present in all living organisms. Acupuncture is the stimulation of determined acupuncture points along the skin of the body that can involve methods like penetration by thin needles or the application of laser light, heat, or pressure.
Here’s how the therapy works: chi circulates in the body along twelve major pathways, that are called meridians. Each meridian is linked to identified internal organs and organ systems. The acupuncture needles are put into distinct locations called acupoints, which are found on 12 meridians on the body. The meridians connect the 360 primary acupoints.
By inserting very fine, sterile single-use needles into specific points along the meridians, it redirects and repositions the flow of the chi energy for the purpose of relieving tension, stress, and pain. The thought is that the uninterrupted and balanced flow of energy along these meridians can improve your health and that it is the blockages and imbalances of the chi in the meridians that cause pain and illness.
Acupuncture is often used to relieve muscle and joint pain, but most commonly back pain. It can also be used to help neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, elbow pain, hip and leg pain, knee pain, hand and wrist pain, back pain, ankle pain and fibromyalgia and many other illnesses.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that acupuncture can be used to treat a lot of different medical conditions, including allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, gynecological problems, respiratory conditions, nervous conditions, and disorders of the eyes, nose and throat, and childhood illnesses, among others. Acupuncture is sometimes used in the treatment of alcoholism and substance abuse. It is most often associated with treating headaches and chronic pain associated with problems like back injuries and arthritis.
Dry Needling Therapy
A treatment of muscular pain and myofascial dysfunction, dry needling or intramuscular stimulation (IMS) relaxes overactive muscles, which contain trigger points. Basically, it is needling a muscle’s trigger points without injecting anything. Dry needling uses rapid, short-term needling to tissues in order to improve and restore its function. This may include myofascial trigger points, periosteum and connective tissues as well as others. It uses an acupuncture needle or an injection needle without the injection of a fluid.
Dry needling often relieves pain almost immediately after the procedure. Then process uses small sterile solid needles to deactivate trigger points and relax shortened muscles. Trigger points are local points within a taut band of muscle in the fascia of the muscle. The trigger point can experience pain from the compression and palpation.
The goal is to desensitize these supersensitive structures, and restore motion and give back muscle function. It induces a healing response in the muscle or tendon tissue by creating a local inflammation. It causes microtrauma with microbleeding and the release of platelet derived growth factor into the local tissues to produce inflammation and healing.
The most common areas for dry needling are:
- The suboccipital area and cervical spine for headaches and neck pain.
- The piriformis and gluts
- The ITB and Vastus laterals
- The scapular area, particularly the upper trap, levator scap, teres and rhomboids.
- The lumbar paraspinal muscles and the quadratus lumborum.
- The whole shoulder area
- Hip adductors/high groin sprains
- Lateral and medial epicondyles—needling the bone and tendon for microtrauma (also the points in the extensors).
- Gastrocnemius, peroneals, post ti
- Achilles (needling the tendon for microtrauma)
- Plantar fascia
Dry Needling comes from a medical origin and uses a syringe with nothing in it to alleviate pain. Sometimes, the same type of filament needles are used in dry needling and acupuncture.
The techniques of dry needling and acupuncture are different.
Dry Needling is focused on treating a single tissue, which causes pain. Acupuncture is based on treating broader health conditions.
In addition, the procedure the physical therapists use for finding a myofascial trigger point or taut band in muscle tissue depends on manual palpation skills. These manual skills are used along with a physical examination, testing and case history. Physical therapists are trained extensively in these areas.
Acupuncturists use many different examination skills from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) like pulse and tongue examination. Palpation over tender muscle areas like for dry needling is not part of a normal TCM examination.
Perhaps one of the biggest differences is that dry needling targets a painful muscle trigger point, which is variable in location and not connected to other areas of pain. On the other hand, acupuncture treatment is separate from the pain location. It depends on a TCM diagnosis and needling a combination of acupoints based on that specific diagnosis. The acupuncture needles are left in place for generally a much greater period that those used in dry needling.
Pain reduction and regaining motion range are treatment outcomes of dry needling that are often seen immediately after removal of the needles. The results of acupuncture are normally seen after a period of time after the treatment.
Trained acupuncturists perform acupuncture and physical therapists practice dry needling.
If you are searching for a pain relief therapy and have an interest in dry needling, we can answer what’s the difference between dry needling and acupuncture and what do they offer? Our physical therapists at North Boulder Physical Therapy can work with you and your doctor to find the best therapy for you. We want to help you get back to a pain free life.