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Acupuncture and Dry Needling, What’s the difference?

     Acupuncture is a proven medicine with thousands of years of evidence-based success. It is an in-depth science which requires several years of medical training and thousands of hours of practice. In recent years, a new technique has been implemented in chiropractic and sports medicine environments that could be construed as similar to acupuncture – dry needling. Factually, dry needling is very different from acupuncture. It is important for anyone who is considering trying or recommending it to understand the difference. The following information reflects thorough examination of dry needling and if it is a good option for patient needs.
    What are the basic differences in the methodology of acupuncture and dry needling? Acupuncture works with other areas of Chinese Medicine to treat acute pain and illness, as well as chronic conditions. The process consists of inserting small needles into meridian points all over the body to restore the free flow of qi, or energy. The healing effect is a removal of the stagnation of blood and energy. This stagnation is the main cause of pain. Dry needling uses microfilament needles on top of muscular “trigger points” to attempt to help with issues associated with muscle aches and pains. This is one of many methods of needling that has been utilized within the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine throughout history. It is imperative to note that dry needling will not help with chronic issues.
    A very important aspect in the dissimilarities between acupuncture and dry needling concerns their study, practice, and regulation. Acupuncturists complete years of training with an accredited school of Oriental Medicine. They also go through thousands of rigorous hours observing and practicing before they are allowed to treat patients on their own. There are regulations set in place that practitioners are required by law to abide by. As previously mentioned, the science is very complex and has evolved over thousands of years. This is not the case with dry needling. It is a very recent option for treatment, and there is not a lot of supportive evidence to use for study and refining. There is very little training involved, and it can be learned in just a couple days. In addition, there are no standard practices or guidelines in place for dry needling. In fact, an article from Healthline states, “Since dry needling doesn’t have formal training, certifications, or state licensure, there are more concerns about use than with acupuncture.” (Holland, 2018). There are no regulations concerning dry needling. What this means is that dry needling is a liability and can be offered without proper legal accountability.
    Finally, an explanation of the uses of acupuncture and dry needling. Acupuncture is a medicine which has been proven to provide successful treatment for all kinds of ailments. Because it is a complete system of medicine, acupuncture patients experience successful healing from everything from mental health issues to pain, blood pressure stabilization, neurological disorders, digestive ailments…the list is virtually endless. Research shows that dry needling can be an option to relieve muscle pain and tension, but that “…more conventional and cost-effective methods, such as stretching and massage therapy, may be better at relieving muscle pain.” (Fletcher, 2018). Dry needling does not promote healing illnesses, as acupuncture does.
    To close, dry needling could help with pain, but it is simply not recommended as an option for more serious issues. Metaphorically speaking, dry needling is to acupuncture as band-aids are to stitches. If a patient is being treated for muscle pain, it may help, although this has little research or support. Acupuncture is a way to heal all forms of illness, acute or otherwise. If a patient wishes to achieve healing for chronic or intense medical conditions, acupuncture is recommended. With a better understanding of these major differences, patients should be able to make an informed decision about their healthcare.

Resources:
“Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture: Benefits and Uses.” Medical News Today, May 31, 2018 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321989

Holland, Kimberly. “Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture.” Healthline, December 6, 2018 http://www.healthline.com/health/dry-needling-vs-acupuncture

“Dry Needling: A Literature Review with Implications for Clinical Practice Guidelines.” Physical Therapy Reviews : August, 2014, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117383 

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