There are plenty of misconceptions that exist in the world regarding acupuncture and dry needling. These false notions are often related to exactly how it affects the body and the actual ability of the procedures to induce healing or relaxation. Even less understood is the difference between dry-needling and acupuncture. The two procedures are distinctly different and used for different therapeutic and medicinal purposes despite the fact that the two terms are often interchanged or used incorrectly. Both use needles, however, in extremely different ways. By understanding the actual differences in these procedures, you will be able to make informed choices about which approach is best designed to treat your particular health condition.
Two Contrasting Schools of Thought
The most common difference that patients will notice between the two procedures is the location of the treatment area in regards to the injury site. Additionally the level of discomfort that may be associated with the treatments can vary from person to person, but generally dry-needling can have varying degrees of discomfort. This difference in sensation is due to the fact that the two techniques approach the body and nerves in two different ways. Since being developed in the 1970’s, dry-needling is aimed specifically at treating muscular tension, muscular dysfunction, and active trigger points. It is based on Western knowledge of anatomy and physiology that has been fundamentally researched. Acupuncture, on the other hand, is based off of traditional Eastern medicine and 5000 years of history, which utilizes the meridian system which follows the flow of Qi throughout the body.
The meridian system of the body is one that is based on the studies of ancient Chinese cultures whereas the techniques that are used in dry-needling are much more reliant on the contemporary models of the human body and nervous system. The ancient Chinese were primarily concerned about the flow of Qi throughout the body, believing that any blockage of this vital energy causes pain and discomfort. The aim of acupuncture is to release these blockages in the body where energy is unable to flow through its proper channels. Achieving this goal often means placing the needles in areas of body that are physically distant from the actual area where the pain is occurring.
What is Dry-Needling
Dry-needling utilizes a different approach to treating conditions and injuries; it is based on a foundation of Neuroanatomy. Dry-needling is typically used to treat the symptoms of muscular pain, muscular dysfunction, and muscular injury.
Dry-needling works in two distinct ways and in the majority of cases is very simple.
- An acupuncture needle is inserted into the injured or dysfunctional tissue with the intent of causing the muscle fibers to activate. By stimulating the individual fibers to activate, the muscles will begin to twitch; which is simply the muscle contracting rapidly. This contracting is an involuntary reflexive reaction as different neural pathways are being utilized. Dry needling will cause relaxation of the muscle fibers through the disruption of the motor endplate.
- With each needle insertion; microscopic injuries are incurred which causes a local healing response which will then induce normal functioning. This healing response is a chemically mediated response through the release of Substance P, Bradykinin, and other neurotransmitters, which block the transmission of pain signals to the central nervous system. By stimulating the neural pathways that disrupt the pain signals from reaching the central nervous system the pain level can be reduced or eliminated.
The utilization of dry-needling can cause some initial discomfort as the muscles are being directly influenced. Although its use is typically orthopedic in nature, dry-needling does have the ability to address some internal health conditions. Acupuncture is seen as both a healing and preventive measure in the world of medicine while dry-needling is viewed as a healing practice that is implemented once an injury occurs.