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What is Dry Needling? Acupuncture v. Dry Needling

The HISTORY of Acupuncture- The earliest written documentation of acupuncture places its beginnings over 2000 years ago in China. Traditional Acupuncture is based on the stimulation of specific points on the body in order to restore balance. However, modern acupuncturists are trained in both classical theory as well as biomedical science and anatomy. The HISTORY of Dry Needling- While commonly thought to be developed by Drs. Travell and Simon in the 1940s, modern dry needling was actually first performed using solid acupuncture needles by Karel Lewit in 1979. Early in the 20th century, one treatment for myofascial pain was an injection of local anesthetic or saline using a hypodermic needle. Researchers later found that inserting an empty (or “dry”) hypodermic needle into certain areas on the body was equally as effective for pain relief, hence the term “dry needling." Modern dry needling uses the same solid filiform needles as acupuncture.

HOW Acupuncture works- There are various proposed therapeutic mechanisms behind the effects of acupuncture. Basically, acupuncture boosts immune system, lessens inflammation, and increases blood flow. There is a vascular and neurological response to the needles. There are increasing levels of endogenous opioids, increasing levels of adenosine, stimulating muscle relaxation, and modulating parasympathetic activity. The wide variety of effects acupuncture has on the body help explain why studies have found it to be effective for hundreds of ailments. HOW Dry Needling works - Dry needling is most frequently utilized to release myofascial trigger points, which are irritable spots in skeletal muscle that are associated with taut bands. Trigger points can cause muscle tension, fatigue, pain, and inflammation. The majority of dry needling studies support its use for musculoskeletal pain.

Acupuncture PROCEDURE-

Traditional Acupuncture a provider may check a patient’s tongue and pulse along with performing a detailed intake of symptoms. A differential diagnosis will then be determined. Where is the imbalance and then a point prescription of Needles will then be placed on various places throughout the body to restore balance to the body. Needles are typically retained for anywhere from 15-60 minutes. The treatment may include other forms of Chinese Medicine such as cupping, gua sha, massage, or the prescription of Chinese Herbs. Dry Needling PROCEDURE- Zhou, Ma, and Brogan describe dry needling as follows: “needles are inserted deep into the tissues directly toward the trigger points in order to reach them. ‘Sparrow pecking’, whereby solid filiform needles are manipulated in and out of each trigger point to elicit a local twitch response, is commonly used with treatment regimens typically consisting of a course of three or more treatments, given once a week… Dry Needling practice by PTs is typically ‘fast-in and fast-out’, often described as ‘pistoning’, and does not usually involve needle retention”.


The entry level degree for acupuncturists in the United States is a FOUR YEAR master’s degree (Minimum 3,000 hours). Some practitioners may opt to continue their education and earn their doctorate. Acupuncturists must also pass four national board exams. In addition, licensed acupuncturists must complete continuing education in order to maintain their state and National license.

Dry Needling EDUCATION- There are no objectively determined standards of education, curriculum, standardized national examination, or requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities in place for dry needling. There are no standards for clinical mentorship. In short, there is no current definition of the practice referred to as dry needling and no standardized system of demonstrating either minimal competency or safety.” Practitioners frequently begin practicing dry needling with as few as 12-27 hours of training.

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