Why Dry Needling is NOT Really Acupuncture

Categories: Blog.

Not Quite The Same.

There is much debate concerning the relation of dry needling and acupuncture. While they do share some superficial similarities—the use of thin needles inserted into the body—the two disciplines are actually quite different. In order to understand the distinction, it is important to define each discipline, their respective educational and licensing requirements and the actual medical efficacy of both. 

What is Dry Needling?

Also referred to as intramuscular stimulation, dry needling targets myofascial trigger points—knots in muscle tissue—in order to alleviate musculoskeletal pain. Needles are either inserted directly into the knot or in the area surrounding the knot to stimulate the nerves or connective tissue around the muscle. 

Education and Licensing

In most states, dry needling falls under the professional scope of a licensed physical therapist. Educational and training requirements vary by state, but generally include the completion of a specified number of continuing education credits, licensure as a physical therapist for a specified number of years and demonstration of competency using the technique. Currently, there is no standardized certification exam or licensing requirement specific to dry needling.

Dry Needling Efficacy

As opposed to acupuncture, a discipline in use for thousands of years, dry needling is relatively new. As such, there is little research or evidence substantiating the effectiveness of dry needling in pain management. The results for this therapy can be hit or miss as the needles are only targeting the actual muscles that are hurting, not the underlying cause of the pain.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been around for 1000’s of years and is based on the ancient belief that the body contains a type of flowing life energy, called qi (pronounced chi). Blockages and imbalances in this energy are thought to cause pain and illness. Acupuncture needles target specific points on the body in order to restore the proper flow of qi and promote healing. 

Unlike dry needling, which concentrates solely on the musculoskeletal system, acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has a whole-body (holistic) approach, often used in conjunction with other Oriental Medicine approaches, including Chinese herbal medicine, acupressure, cupping and tai qi and qi gong exercises. 

Educational and Licensing Requirements

In order to practice as a licensed acupuncture physicians, students must complete an accredited Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AOM) degree program at the post-graduate level. Candidates must complete a specified minimum of credit hours in:

  • Oriental medical theory, diagnosis and treatment techniques.
  • Chinese herbology.
  • Biomedical sciences.
  • Clinical training in acupuncture and herbal medicine.
  • Practice management, ethics, communication and counseling.

Licensure varies by state but most require the passage of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) exam. 

Acupuncture Efficacy vs. Dry Needling Efficacy

Although acupuncture has more spiritual foundations, there is a large amount of research regarding the medical efficacy of its use. The biological mechanisms for why it works are not clearly understood yet it has been healing people since the Stone Age. Some theories suggest that acupuncture stimulates the body’s self-healing mechanisms, while others attribute its efficacy to improved blood flow.  

Dry needling, as mentioned before, is rather new and does not treat the underlying cause and only treats the symptoms.  For instance, if someone were to visit an acupuncture physician for back pain the practitioner may insert needles in the hands and feet or other body parts (like the ear) to open up the circulation and qi flow in the spine and also put needles in the back where the pain is.  If one were to visit a practitioner of dry needling for the same back pain, needles would only be placed in the area of pain, thus severely lessening the effectiveness of the treatment as well as the results obtained.  

At Lakewood Ranch Acupuncture and Wellness our acupuncture physicians are fully trained and licensed in Chinese Medicine and have gone through the schooling required to not only treat the issue and symptoms but also the underlying cause of the pain putting the body back into balance.  One can expect not only a reduction in pain, but the pleasant side effects of the body achieving homeostatic balance which results in, but is not limited to, better sleep, improved energy, and a reduction of stress.  The body is miraculous at healing itself and when acupuncture is performed by a licensed and trained acupuncture physician you will most certainly get the best chance at this powerful self-healing and the best results over all.