Don't Be Fooled!! "Dry Needling" Is Really Acupuncture!!!

       Of course, for my first blog topic, I have to choose one that's controversial. There has been, and is still, a lot of controversy around whether or not "Dry Needling" is really Acupuncture. Some, like Physical Therapists and Chiropractors, are claiming that it isn't. While others, namely Acupuncturists, say that it is. I, personally, believe that it IS Acupuncture.

       I know my opinion seems biased, what with me being an Acupuncturist and all, but hear me out! Please...I've done my research. 

       Those that practice "Dry Needling" will tell you that it differs from the techniques of Acupuncture. They will say that it's not Acupuncture because it's based on Western scientific anatomical theory, and focuses on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Whereas Acupuncture is based on "meridian theory". They may also say that "Dry Needling" is not Acupuncture because the primary focus is to release Trigger Points (...we'll get to that later). Another argument is that "Dry Needling" was only discovered fairly recently. It was pioneered by Janet Travell in the 1940's, and has slowly gained traction since. Acupuncture, on the other hand, has been around for thousands of years (why that wouldn't be the ultimate argument in the favor of acupuncture is beyond me).

       Personally, I think the fact that there is a lot of mysticism tied to Acupuncture is the reason why so many would lean more towards "Dry Needling". It's easy to explain, it uses Western scientific words that most people have heard of, and it doesn't sound like scary Chinese Voodoo (no offence to the Chinese, or to Voodoo). It uses words and ideas that aren't familiar; talking about "meridians" and "points", and telling people something is wrong with their "Qi" (or Chi)...meanwhile you, the patient, is sitting there going: "My what? What is qi? What do you mean it's 'vital energy'? Are you sure what you practice is medicine?"

 That's not how you do Acupuncture. I'm not even sure that's how you do Voodoo...

That's not how you do Acupuncture. I'm not even sure that's how you do Voodoo...

       Now, as lovely as it would be to answer all of those questions, that's not the purpose today...So, let's get down to business.

       The definition of Acupuncture is: “a method of relieving pain or curing illness by placing needles into a person's skin at particular points on the body”*. So, therefore, the simple act of inserting an acupuncture/”acupuncture style” needle (as quoted by “Dry Needle” practitioners) into the body, for any purpose, is the practice of acupuncture.

*Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

       Secondly, anyone practicing “Dry Needling” is actually practicing a somewhat rudimentary style of Acupuncture. The technique of directly needling an area that is painful to the touch was outlined in the foundation text of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine called the Huang Di Nei Jing (this was written around the 4th Century BCE). The areas of the muscle that are tender to the touch are referred to as “Ashi” points. They were given their own name because they usually did not correspond to any of the points on the meridians, but were clearly areas that needed to be identified and treated. Even more impressive, a 1977 study conducted by Melzack, Stillwell and Fox, that was published in Pain (the official journal of the International Association of the Study of Pain) established that “every trigger point [reported in the Western medical literature] has a corresponding Acupuncture point.”* Also, a number of subsequent studies that have been published in Western medical literature have reached the same conclusion.

*Source: Melzack R, Stillwell DM, Fox EJ. Trigger points and acupuncture points for pain: correlations and implications. Pain. 1977 Feb;3(1):3–23.

       There are also needle techniques in Chinese Medicine that deal specifically with pain from a muscular origin. These techniques are called Tendino-Muscular Techniques (or Gen-Luo). Tendino-Muscle Meridians are meridians that “pass through depressions and planes between the muscles and tendons. They control the movement of extremities, flexing and extending the joints, they hold the body erect, and protect the body from trauma.”* There are 2 of the Gen-Luo techniques that very strongly correspond to the release of Trigger Points. One is called Ju. This technique requires that the patient be put into whatever position is causing the muscle pain, and then having those tissues strongly released by an Acupuncture needle. The second technique is called Luo. This technique is only to be used if a non-meridian point of pain (“Ashi” point) is painful to the touch and the pain refers to another location. Hmm....that sounds a LOT like a trigger point to me...let's investigate the definition of a Trigger Point just to be sure: “a localized usually tender or painful area of the body and especially of a muscle that when stimulated gives rise to pain elsewhere in the body”.* Well, my mind is blown...How about yours?

*Source: The Twelve Tendino-Muscular Meridians. Part 1 July 3, 2015 Martin Eisen [Scientific Qi Exploration 气的科学探讨] The Twelve Tendino-Muscular Meridians. Part 1 Marty Eisen Ph.D.
*Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary
 Is it an Ashi point or a Trigger Point? We'll never know.

Is it an Ashi point or a Trigger Point? We'll never know.

       If you take anything from this long-winded almost rant of mine, I hope, above all, that it's education. Don't let the mask of “Dry Needling” fool you, or steer you away from trying Acupuncture...especially now that you know they're the same medicine.

  • Melanie Murphy L.M.T., L.Ac., MS