You may have heard your physical therapist, chiropractor or physician talk about dry-needling; according to them it is nothing like acupuncture- “one was created thousands of years ago and the other was only adopted in the last few decades. One is designed to relieve pain, discomfort, or issues by opening up a person’s qi. The other is designed to stimulate “trigger points,” or muscles that are irritable.” This is an alarmingly misleading and uninformed description of acupuncture. We routinely use points known as “ashi” (ah-sure) which are located in tender areas in muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments- sometimes off of the channels, sometimes not.
So what is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture? In practice, there isn’t one. Targeting trigger points with acupuncture needles is one of the many techniques a licensed acupuncturist could use to address your pain. But, in training, there is a big one…
The Facts Dry-needling certification programs are unaccredited weekend courses made up of 50 hours of combined lecture and hands on practice; many do not require supervised patient treatments or competency testing. Licensed acupuncturists are trained under programs overseen by the U.S Department of Education with over 700 hours of hands on practice- this does not include the hundred of hours learning diagnosis, channel theory, acupuncture technique, etc. Licensed acupuncturists are required to have a minimum of 250 supervised hours needling patients and must pass one or more national board exams prior to licensure.
The Risks The risks of dry-needling are predictable given the tremendous difference in hours of hands-on training. Aggressive and untrained needling of areas in pain can cause the area to get retraumatized leading to more pain and excessive bruising and soreness. Needling angles, depths and technique are of vital importance in some areas of the body- especially over the ribcage and lungs. Untrained needling of some muscles can lead to pneumothorax (lung collapse) and can even injure other organs such as the kidneys and liver. These risks are nearly eliminated when acupuncture is performed by a licensed acupuncturist who receives 4 years of training in the art and science of needling.
If you want to find out why we use distal points to treat everything at BAC, check out our blog post: BAC Goes The Distance