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What's the Point of Dry Needling?

If you’re here on our site you have probably seen that we offer Dry Needling. If you’re like many of our patients, you may also be wondering what the difference is between Dry Needling and Acupuncture. Both use needles and both seem a little scary for that very reason, but what is the benefit you can expect from either?

Let’s start with the more recognizable of the two, Acupuncture. Acupuncture is an ancient eastern form of medicine that deals with the flow and obstruction of “qi” (chinese term for life force or energy, also spelled “chi”) within the body. The general theory of qi is that our body contains the currents of energy that give an appropriate amount of energy to whatever tissue they go to—that could be the heart, the liver, or the muscles. Whenever there is too much or too little flow of energy, you will see diseases occur. The purpose of placing acupuncture needles in the body is to correct the flow of energy so that the affected tissue is able to receive the energy it needs to perform optimally.

The needles are then placed in very specific points of the body to directly tap into those channels of energy. Below is a picture of what the channels of energy look like as mapped out on a model.

So what sorts of things can acupuncture be used to treat? The list is vast, everything from morning sickness to pain reduction to heart problems.

Dry needling, on the other hand, is a technique that was developed more recently. The first research into the effects of dry needling was performed in the United States back in the early 1940s. The purpose of needling is much more focused on affecting the fascia (connective tissue of the body, such as collagen). Instead of following a map of points such as acupuncture does, dry needling is guided by identifying points of the body that have been injured and scarring—a build-up of fascia or collagen—has developed. Through advanced imaging techniques such as high resolution ultrasound, we have found that fascia can be evened out and smoothed through placing needles through it. This, in turn, will improve blood and nerve flow to the area and range of motion as well as decrease pain in performing its function.

The doctors at Muscle Works are trained in Dry Needling at this point. In the future, we would love to incorporate acupuncture, but for now we are content to treat the musculoskeletal issues best addressed with Dry Needling.

Common Questions

  1. Does Dry Needling/acupuncture hurt? The short answer is yes, but not nearly as much as you would think. The size of the needles is markedly smaller than a hollow needle used to inject or extract fluid from the body and is therefore usually only sensed as a slight pinch. In many occasions, the needles are actually more comfortable than a deep tissue massage.

  2. How does Dry Needling actually work? The mechanism of treatment is still being researched, but here is what we know for sure so far—the needling creates a small, controlled inflammatory response to an area that is either dealing with chronic inflammation or has very little happening. That small inflammatory response invites healthy changes to the area, including a white blood cells eating away dead or useless tissue, and the reorganization of fibers to a healthier pattern. The needle also incites a release of natural painkillers called endorphins and enkethalins to the area for a more temporary relief while the more permanent changes take place. You can almost think of it as a controlled demolition of a building: by using small controlled explosions, the building can be taken down safely for something bigger and better to take its place.

Our doctors are committed to helping you find greater ease and health, and Dry Needling is one of the tools that they've seen help bring injuries back to full strength. Let us know if you'd like to use this new, exciting technique to #ReachHigher.


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