Dry Needling and Acupuncture

August 17, 2018

Are Dry Needling and Acupuncture the Same?

This is a commonly asked question in our clinic and one answered daily by our therapists. The primary similarity between dry needling and acupuncture is that they both involve the insertion of very thin needles that don’t inject fluid through the skin at strategic points on your body. Both practices aim to treat pain. But the similarity ends there.

Let’s start with acupuncture, which is a part of ancient Chinese medicine developed 2,500 years ago. Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy known as chi, which is believed to flow through pathways called meridians in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe your energy flow will re-balance. Western practitioners view the acupuncture points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue. Some believe that this stimulation boosts your body’s natural painkillers.

Dry needling is a specific clinical technique to treat musculoskeletal pain and movement dysfunction. Dry needling was developed in the 1970’s and has progressed today with use of several modalities to improve techniques. Dry needling is primarily used to treat soft tissue pain related to inflammation, sensitized nerves, scar tissue formation, tissue adhesions, and deficiency of blood and lymphatic circulation. It addresses both local and systemic dysfunctions.

The process of dry needling involves inserting a needle through the skin where it physically stretches soft tissue. The needled tissue activates physiological changes that promote tissue healing. Needling facilitates the remodeling of the inflamed and injured soft tissue and around the needling site.

Dry needling does not treat diseases, but can restore tissue and systemic homeostasis, and promote improvement in many pathological conditions. Needling provides improvement both locally and systemically.

The local benefit of dry needling is the remodeling process of soft tissue dysfunction occurring in three ways:

• Local reduction in tissue tension
• Reducing local inflammation
• Replacing injured tissues with fresh tissues of the same type

It is also hypothesized that this process can assist with the balance of the fight or flight part of the nervous system.

All local dysfunctions have effects on the entire system. Soft tissue pain can affect the balance and motor patterns regionally and throughout the body.

Dry needling, especially when utilizing a global approach, as with integrative dry needling, can have systemic benefits. Integrative dry needling addresses the symptomatic areas (myofascial trigger points) and the peripheral nerve and its connection back to the spinal root by needling along the nerve pathway.

The systemic benefit of dry needling is promoting homeostasis, which is the body maintaining a stable internal environment, despite changes in the exterior.

Systemic homeostasis is restored through reducing both physical and physiological stress. Needling can also alleviate biomechanical imbalances such as joint and posture imbalance through addressing the soft tissue dysfunctions.

In our clinic, we have had excellent results when combining dry needling with other treatment modalities such as manual therapy and functional movement training to work toward restoring health and optimal level of performance. We have several therapists trained in dry needling along with advanced manual therapy skills who would be happy to assist you on your path to recovery.

Written by: Debbie Clarke, PT, MPT, CIDN
Certified in Integrative Dry Needling