Dry needling. Acupuncture. Is there any difference? You will know that both involve the insertion of very fine needles. Both dry needling and acupuncture use the same or very similar needles, however they vary in the theory, and the technique and location for the insertion of needles.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a truly ancient technique, originating in China well over 5000 years ago. It is a cornerstone treatment of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture is based on the theory that health is determined by a balanced flow of chi, the vital life energy present in all living organisms.
Chi circulates in the body along twelve major pathways, called meridians. Each meridian is linked to specific internal organs (e.g. heart, lungs, spleen, kidney and liver).The theory is that by inserting needles at specific points along the meridians, the therapist can redirect and reposition the flow of uninterrupted energy for the purpose of relieving tension, stress, pain and improving overall wellbeing. If blockages and imbalances remain this may result in pain and illness.
Physiotherapist’s use a modern adaptation of acupuncture called western acupuncture or segmental dry needling. This adaptation of Chinese acupuncture uses current knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and the principles of evidence based medicine. Western medical acupuncture therapists tend to pay less attention than classical acupuncturists when choosing one point over another, though they generally choose classical points as the best places to stimulate the nervous system. Needles are generally inserted and left in place for around 20 minutes. Additional needles may be added to increase the potential benefits of treatment.
What is dry needling?
Dry needling is an effective and efficient technique for the treatment of muscular pain and myofascial dysfunction. It is extremely effective for relaxing overactive muscles, which contain trigger points (you may know these area’s as the lumpy painful “knots” in your muscles).
In simple terms, the treatment involves the insertion of a needle into a muscle’s trigger points or ‘knots’ without injecting any substance.
The technique of dry needling differs from that of acupuncture. The therapist will move the needle in a piston motion looking for tight points called trigger points. Hitting a trigger point will often elicit a ‘twitch response’ indicating the trigger point is beginning to release. Once a ‘twitch’ has been produced, the muscle fibres in that area relax causing inflammation to reduce and circulation to improve.
Dry needling is based on Western anatomical and neurophysiological principles. It should not to be confused with the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique of acupuncture. Recent research is demonstrating positive physiological effects of dry needling techniques, which may be beneficial as part of the treatment regime recommended by your physiotherapist for your specific pain and injury.
When do we use dry needling?
Our physio’s prescribe dry needling as an adjunct therapy. For clients with conditions in which tight tissues are a contributing factor, dry needling can in some circumstances involve less discomfort than traditional deep soft tissue therapy. Your physiotherapist will tailor a treatment program most suited to you.
Is dry needling painful?
Needle insertion may not be felt, and at most, you may experience a pin-prick. The local twitch response is a sudden slight contraction of the muscle which elicits a quick pain response which varies for each patient. After treatment, you may experience heaviness in the treated limb or even a relaxed state of mind. It is not unusal to experience mild muscle soreness for 24-48 hours after treatment, however we recommend the application of ice is good for any bruising and heat for any pain/aches. Moving and stretching is encouraged (always!).
After a thorough assessment, your physiotherapist will decide if acupuncture, dry needling or a combination of both is necessary. Although not every physiotherapist is qualified to perform dry needling techniques. Our Physiotherapists have undertaken additional training to be accredited to use this technique.