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Acupuncture ‘vs’ Dry Needling: Pulling the pin on the myths

One question new patients frequently ask is, “Do you do acupuncture?”  Straight away, the physiotherapist finds themself at the pointy end of a conversation.

For the common part, physiotherapists practice ‘dry needling’, which is a sub-type of acupuncture.  Both acupuncture and dry needling use the same type of needle and follow many of the similar points, but the theory and clinical reasoning behind the needle placement is different.  Dry needling is practiced by physiotherapists as it involves the insertion of a needle into soft tissues with the aim of decreasing myofascial tension and improving musculoskeletal function.  In lay language – instead of digging our fingers into the sore parts, we can insert a needle to do the same job.  Acupuncture, on the other hand, is a Traditional Chinese Medicine tool that uses the theory of meridians and the placement of needles is targeted at restoring the body’s qi flow.  Qi is the flow of yin and yang and, by restoring this balance, acupuncturists aim to improve systemic medical pathologies.  Acupuncture is very commonly used for pain management with chronic conditions.

Some physiotherapists have undertaken extra study in the area of acupuncture and are thus entitled to claim they practice the technique.  For the majority, though, dry needling is a fantastic tool based around a physiotherapist’s pre-existing knowledge of anatomy and neurophysiological control of the body.  Needle insertion can be done at areas of myofascial tension (commonly referred to by patients as ‘knots’), bone periostium (where tissues fixate to bone and are the source of pain i.e. shin splints) or other soft tissues.  As the needles are inserted into the areas of tension, the focal invasion causes the tissue to react.  This reaction is promptly followed by a degree of tissue relaxation and hopefully a reduction in pain.

Dry needling is really helpful when treating a large area of muscle tension.  In addition, patients who are sensitive to touch when in acute pain often find dry needling extremely effective as their tightness can be released with minimal hands-on therapy.

Here at Active Rehabilitation Physiotherapy, each patient is assessed on an individual basis. If one of our physiotherapists feels that dry needling may be effective in your situation, they will present it as one of your treatment options.  If you would like to try dry needling, your physiotherapist will explain the process as well as any potential complications.  Written consent is also obtained before any intervention is undertaken.  All physiotherapists who practice dry needling have undergone appropriate post-graduate training, followed by in-house training sessions and in-services.

So if you are looking for that little jolt to finally get rid of that old ache and pain, come and visit one of our therapists and see what all the fun is about.