If you casually observed acupuncture and dry needling, you would probably be hard-pressed to spot any differences between the two. At face value, the practices only involve inserting and removing needles from the patient.

But acupuncture and dry needling are in fact very different forms of alternative medicine that happen to utilize similar pieces of equipment. Their origins, the way they work, and the conditions they treat are all very different!

The Origin of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the oldest forms of traditional Chinese medicine. However, historians have not reached a consensus as to its specific country of origin. The oldest existing document describing acupuncture was written around 100 BC, although evidence suggests that it may have been practiced as long ago as 5,000 BC!

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncturists presume the existence of qi (or chi), a circulating life force and healing energy. This is fundamental to many branches of Chinese philosophy and medicine. (“Qi” is also an excellent Scrabble word.)

Supporters of acupuncture posit that many types of illness can result when qi becomes obstructed or otherwise interrupted. The methodical insertion of thin, solid metal needles into certain points along the energy pathways corrects the flow of qi This in turn is able to help the patient heal to their fullest potential.

Does Acupuncture Work?

Its critics claim that acupuncture is a pseudoscience, which at best only works due to the placebo effect. Some scientists believe the practice may in fact release endorphins. Endorphins are naturally occurring peptides that yield several benefits including reduced pain, anxiety and depression.

There is evidence that acupuncture is effective for treating many types of pain. One study conducted in 2001 showed that acupuncture significantly reduced test subjects’ lower back pain. Another study conducted in 2006 showed that recipients of acupuncture reported a statistically significant reduction in chronic neck pain as well as increased mobility. However, it is important to note that several equally valid scientific studies have failed to demonstrate any significant difference between acupuncture and the placebo effect.

The Origin of Dry Needling

The practice of dry needling is considerably newer than acupuncture. The term for it was introduced in the 1983 book Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: Trigger Point Manual. The book describes the practice of inserting several thread-like needles through the skin where they can affect the underlying muscles. (It is also known as “intramuscular stimulation” for this reason.)

The are two primary techniques. The first is in-and-out, during which the needle is only briefly inserted into the patient. The second is non-trigger point, wherein needles are inserted around the painful area instead of directly into it.

How Does Dry Needling Work?

Dry needling targets trigger points. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction defines this as discrete, focal, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle. Trigger points are painful during compression, and may also cause motor dysfunction and other types of complications. Dry needling serves to release these knots or hard spots that have formed within the muscle tissue.

Does Dry Needling Work?

People who receive dry needling for soreness, stiffness, inflexibility and pain frequently report immediate relief. Multiple scientific studies suggest that dry needling does in fact produce greater relief for a variety of conditions than a placebo treatment or no treatment at all.

Dry needling can quickly and effectively treat complications arising from a wide range of conditions. These conditions include tension headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, TMJ, and tendonitis. It can also help treat sciatica, joint and back pain, post-surgical knee pain, and much more.

What Are the Differences Between Acupuncture and Dry Needling?

Acupuncture and dry needling share more in common than just needles. Neither practice injects a foreign substance into the patient. Both may also cause side effects including bruising, soreness and slight pain. But despite their skin-deep similarities, acupuncture and dry needling vary in several important regards.

Practitioner Qualifications: Whereas professional acupuncturists must have spent about three years studying for official accreditation, dry needling lacks any kind of credentialing board. Because you don’t need a license to practice dry needling, it is crucial to receive the procedure from a chiropractor, sports injury therapist, physical therapist, or another type of medical professional with training and a reputable background.

Duration of insertion: Acupuncturists typically leave needles in their patient for a duration of 20 to 25 minutes. Dry needling practitioners typically leave needles in their patients for a shorter period of time: 10 to 15 minutes at most, and often only briefly.

Qi: Unlike acupuncturists, dry needling practitioners neither presume the existence of nor attempt to manipulate unquantifiable and hypothetical life energy.

Conditions treated: Acupuncturists claim to treat a wide variety of conditions including chronic and localized pain, nausea, menstrual cramps, depression, and even addiction. Dry needling practitioners, on the other hand, typically only seek to treat complications arising from muscular pain and stiffness, as well as other musculoskeletal issues.

The most important distinction between acupuncture and dry needling is this: Only the newer treatment can attribute its rising popularity to its results rather than an ancient tradition.

Choose Dry Needling Treatment at Fargo Spine

As a non-pharmaceutical modality, dry needling takes full advantage of the body’s innate ability to self-heal, and produces only mild side effects at worst. Plus, it produces fast relief – especially when administered in conjunction with other valid forms of treatment.

Like its benefits, the conditions which dry needling can treat are many. Whether you are suffering from chronic pain, a recent injury, muscle fatigue, or any other number of issues, we welcome you to contact Fargo Spine today. We will help you learn how dry needling can benefit you!