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Adult male physiotherapist is doing acupuncture on the back of a female patient. Patient is lying down on a bed and is covered with royal blue towels.

Known by many different names, dry needling is a variation of acupuncture that’s recently been gaining popularity in Western cultures. The difference between the two treatments comes down to the philosophy. Unlike traditional acupuncture, which uses energetic pathways called meridians to improve the flow of qi, dry needling incorporates the scientific study of the musculoskeletal system. Instead of inserting needles into acupoints that correspond to the area being treated, needles are inserted into tender and irritated muscle tissue. When stimulated, these trigger spots (known as “ashi” points) are released.

Here’s how it works: When the needle is inserted into the tissue, the tiny injury causes the body to produce a local healing response. This prompts the production of chemicals in the the neural pathways, which block the pain by disrupting the messages that are sent to the central nervous system. The trigger points, in turn, are able to relax and the tissue is restored to normal function.

The effectiveness of the treatment has been confirmed by numerous studies. A review of these studies, published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy in 2014, found that dry needling can decrease pain immediately after treatment and possibly up to four weeks. It can address several conditions, including tendonitis, headaches, whiplash, lower back pain, and sports-related injuries. In fact, it’s been found to be so effective that NFL teams are even incorporating it into their sports therapy routines.

While dry needling is effective in addressing muscular pain, during the treatment the trigger point are may feel somewhat uncomfortable, indicating that the therapy is working. “Generally speaking, the greater the injury, the more intense the treatment will be,” writes Andrew Nugent-Head in the Journal of Chinese Medicine. The muscles may be slightly weakened directly after treatment, but the patient will see immediate improvement in range of motion and joint use.

Physical therapists and other health professionals have used dry needling for many years with good results and  Acupuncturists are specifically licensed in the use of acupuncture needles to perform dry needling.  In Washington State, there is new legislation restricting Physical Therapists from doing dry needling, although this may not be so in other states.  If you are unable to receive dry needling at a facility where you have done so in the past, look for a licensed Acupuncturist.  If you think you may benefit from the treatment and have not tried it in the past, it’s important to search out a qualified practitioner who has the breadth of training and education to provide treatment that’s effective and safe.  Schedule an appointment today to have a plan designed for your needs.

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