Acupuncture is an ancient form of therapy that’s been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for hundreds of years. It’s used to treat pain and assist with healing of the muscles. An acupuncturist inserts needles into specific points in the body known as ‘acupuncture points’. In TCM, these points are anatomically defined areas on the skin relative to certain landmarks on the body. TCM practitioners originally named these points
In fact, the word ‘acupuncture’ is derived from the Latin word for needle – acus. Acupuncture literally means “puncturing of bodily tissue for the relief of pain”.
Now, Western medicine is quite different from TCM. Western medicine is based on scientific study and analysis rather than the theory of qi. However, it does acknowledges that acupuncture can indeed help with pain relief and rehabilitation. It just has a different theory for how and why it works.
That’s how dry needling came about.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a Standard Acupuncture Nomenclature document which lists about 400 acupuncture points and 20 meridians connecting most of the points.
In TCM, acupuncture is based on healing through correcting the energy flow of a person. In dry needling, muscle trigger points are treated by a physiotherapist by inserting needles into the acupuncture points. Although the idea came from TCM, the practise is based on Western medicine principles.
Dry needling involves locating “trigger points” that cause myofascial (muscle) pain. The physiotherapist inserts needles into these points in order to release the muscle spasm causing pain. The needle only stays in for a few minutes. The therapist may also move it around while it’s in the skin as they try to locate the exact area of the trigger point.
Unlike injection therapies that use hollow-bore needles to deliver medicines such as corticosteroids, anesthetics, sclerosants or, botulinum toxins (known as wet needling), dry needling involves only inserting thin monofilament needles that don’t deliver any substances.
Dry needling isn’t particularly painful, but your muscles may twitch when the trigger point is touched. There’s also some variation in the time in which the needles are kept in the body. Some studies show that optimum dosage is yet to be determined, with different practitioners recommending different frequencies of treatment, intensity and the length of time the needles are left in place. Most studies show that multiple needles are left in place for anything from 5-40 minutes, while some practitioners recommend low back pain should involve at least 10 minutes.
The most important aspect of dry needling is the “deqi” response. This is when the patient feels a dull ache, heaviness, numbness, tingling, cramping or pressure in the area being treated.
Sound a little odd? Well, it works!
Acupuncture is powerfull
Numerous studies have shown that dry needling is a powerful solution for muscular pain. Evidence suggests that direct dry needling of myofascial trigger points can help with short and long-term pain and disability reduction in patients who suffer from musculoskeletal pain.
Researchers explain that when the needle is inserted into the myofascial trigger points, the tip touches or pricks the tiny nerve endings or neural tissue. This is where the sensitive pain receptors are.
It’s believed that the stimulation of these particular nerves or tissues by needles brings about an increased pain threshold, which effectively ‘closes the gates’ on pain inputs from selected body areas.
In a systematic review of dry needling techniques used by physiotherapists in the US, it was found that patients reported less pain and an increased pressure pain threshold in the 12 weeks following their treatment. After 6-12 months, they preferred the dry needling technique for reducing their pain. When compared to placebo treatment, dry needling had a statistically superior effect in reducing pain.
Dry needling is typically used to treat pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. But it’s also effective for a variety of neuromusculoskeletal pain symptoms, such as in subcutaneous fascia, scar tissue, and peripheral nerve pain. Those with fibromyalgia have also reported benefits from dry needling treatment.
But here’s the best part of all. Dry needling may be even better than drugs for treating pain.
A study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture compared to morphine in 300 patients. It was found that the dry needling treatment was successful in providing pain relief in 92% of the group receiving it, while only 78% of the group receiving morphine had the same result. Those treated with morphine also reported 85 counts side effects: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fainting.
The conclusion? Whether you call it acupuncture or dry needling, it’s rather a no-brainer for treating pain! But you’ll only be able to judge if you try it yourself.
Go on. It won’t hurt a bit!