To the casual observer, seeing someone undergoing dry needling could easily be confused with acupuncture. The same long, flexible needles are used but that is where the similarities end. Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for thousands of years and is based on the Chinese fundamentals of removing obstacles that interfere with the flow of one’s “chi.” But while acupuncture is between 2000-3000 years old, dry needling is only about 20 years old. That said, it’s fair to say that dry needling takes a newer, more scientific approach to an old and trusted practice.
Acupuncture – Seeking Balance
The goal of acupuncture is to relieve pain and restore a healthy balance between yin and yang; when these forces are in balance in the body, one feels healthy and at peace. When they fall out of balance, acupuncture is employed. Acupuncture focuses on 12 major pathways in the body, called meridians. When one of these pathways is blocked, chi, the vital life force found in all living organisms, is blocked from flowing properly. Acupuncture is a way of freeing that chi to flow again in an effort to seek balance and release.
Dry Needling – Relieving Pain and Tension
Dry needling – also known as Intramuscular Manual Therapy or Trigger Point Dry Needling – uses the same needles as acupuncture but the protocols are different. The needles are placed along trigger points of muscles to relieve muscular pain and myofascial dysfunction. Dry needling works by pinpointing these trigger points in both peripheral and spinal areas, causing local bleeding and inflammation which the body will eventually heal by itself. Many doctors rely on guided dry needling to make the practice as scientific and effective as possible. For example, chronic muscle spasms contain elevated levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals. Dry needling lowers these with a combination of muscle relaxation and release of pain-inhibiting chemicals from the central nervous system.
Studies on chronic muscular spasms reveal elevated production of inflammatory chemicals, triggering in the pain/spasm response. By targeting certain trigger points in muscles, dry needling shows a reduction in the inflammatory response and contributes to muscle relaxation and release of pain-inhibiting chemicals by the central nervous system. By placing needles directly into troubled muscles, the elicited response is triggering the muscle to work towards repairing any buildup and releasing the tension. Most patients report a slight soreness, which is completely normal for a couple of days following the procedure. Many patients report a period of a week or two to elapse for the full benefits to show. Bruising is predictably expected within areas of blood vessels but nominally so.
Conditions Relieved by Dry Needling
Dry needling is effective at treating low back and neck pain, including radiculopathy, shoulder and arm pain like tendonitis, carpal tunnel, or impingement, hip and leg pain like sciatica, muscle strains, calf tightness and spasm, foot pain like ankle sprain, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, headache, face and jaw pain, and fibromyalgia. Many people opt for both dry needling to relieve pain and acupuncture to create harmony.
Schedule Your Consultation and Therapy
While new as an alternative source of healing (especially compared to its ancient cousin, acupuncture), dry needling is becoming a go-to treatment for those who suffer from chronic pain as well as some acute injuries. If you suffer from pain and wish to avoid surgical intervention or pain medication, check out dry needling and see if it can benefit you as it has thousands of others. Contact Orthopedic Associates and schedule your first dry needling session to feel the difference. Call our physical therapy department at (440) 808-5727 and schedule your appointment today!