Most people have some idea about acupuncture, even if they don't know exactly how it works. But many aren’t sure about the difference between acupuncture needling and dry needling. This is a question that comes up all the time during myotherapy sessions! So let’s look at the key similarities and differences.
First, let’s look at the common ground between the two forms of treatment.
Both use needles as the tool of treatment. These needles can come in various lengths and thicknesses depending on what they are used for. Needles should always be sterilised and single-use.
Qualified practitioners have to be trained extensively in how to correctly needle a client. Learning where, when and how to use a needle on a human body is a bit intimidating, but it is essential for safety reasons. Whether you get acupuncture from a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner or dry needling from your Myotherapist, you can rest easy knowing there has been months or even years spent on training.
However, dry needling courses can also be offered as short weekend courses for practitioners like remedial massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, etc. If I'm honest, I don't think these courses are long enough, in depth enough, and with enough assessment and examination of each participant. Acupuncturists and Myotherapists train for a long period of time, need to pass both written and practical exams, and complete student clinic treatments under supervision to build their needling competency.
Now we get to the differences between the two forms of treatment.
Why it’s done & what it treats
Acupuncture is a Traditional Chinese Medicine practice, with thousands of years of use. It is used as one treatment form to bring the body back into balance according to TCM treatment protocols, the most familiar of these being the system of meridians, or energy points throughout the body.
Acupuncture can be used to balance hormones, optimise digestion, reduce stress and treat a lot of conditions, including musculoskeletal issues.
I'm always very honest with people when I say that I don’t understand the theory or application well because I’m not a trained acupuncturist, and I refer any more specific acupuncture questions to Amanda Cox-Edwards at Upwey Acupuncture.
Dry needling is a modern physical therapy. It is used to correct imbalances in musculoskeletal health. The goal is to release tension in a muscle, returning it to its natural, neutral tone. Dry needling is used specifically for muscle and joint complaints, as a comparison to acupuncture which has more system wide applications.
Where it is used
Acupuncture can be used directly over an area of concern. But it can also be used distally – that is, a distant point on the body that is related to the area of concern according to the meridians. Certain points on the bodies surface relate to other areas, including internally. Of course, your acupuncturist won't needle directly into your kidneys to treat a kidney issue or into your intestines to treat a digestive issue, they will use the TCM protocols to stimulate points throughout the muscles and skin of your body that relate to the kidneys or digestive system.
On the other hand, dry needling is used directly on the affected muscles. We find the muscle that is tight, spasming or needs to be released, and then locate the spots of most tension within that muscle and that becomes our needling target zone.
How the needle is used
The final major difference is how the needle itself is used as a tool. In acupuncture, the practitioner will insert the needle in the specific spot and depth and generally leave it to do its job while the client relaxes. This can be for up to 45 minutes, depending on what they are treating.
Dry needling is not left alone. Instead, the practitioner will often try to stimulate the muscle fibres by moving the needle, helping to release the tension. The most commonly used stimulation techniques include an up-down motion to repeatedly hit the target within the muscle; a twisting action to wind and release the tissue; and in-out motions on an angle to release broader areas of tension. Some therapists take an aggressive approach to dry needling, and it can be uncomfortable or even painful to receive needling from this type of therapist. By now, you probably know that I'm your gentle Myotherapist, so in typical gentle fashion I use very slow, deliberate stimulation techniques where needed. I also like to let my needles rest then re-stimulate it a few minutes later, rather than continuous stimulation.
Dry needling is just one tool out of a big, broad toolbox that Myotherapists have to use. Scared of needles? We have plenty of other ways to gently encourage your muscles to relax and release without needing to use needles on you.
Does dry needling sound like something you want to try? The good news is that myotherapists have extensive and ongoing training in dry needling. So book yourself in a session to try it today.
You might love your myotherapy sessions – in fact, I hope you do! But I never pretend that myotherapy is the be-all and end-all of healthcare. I’m an advocate for a holistic approach to your health. So today, I wanted to share some reasons why combining myotherapy with other therapies can help you to be your healthiest self.
Combining therapies helps identify problem areas
I’m trained to spot health conditions related to the muscles, joints and bones. But other therapists are trained to spot issues elsewhere.
By seeing more than one practitioner, we can work together to make sure we oversee your health in a holistic way. Often, teamwork is a more effective way to spot potential problems and address them before they get worse.
Combining therapies ensures you have the support you need
Looking after your muscles is important, especially if you have a chronic condition. But if you do have a chronic condition, it’s more than just your muscles that need support. When you add in another therapy, you can look after more aspects of your wellbeing.
Combining therapies has a complementary effect
Different therapies can work together to bring around a better outcome. For example, I can work the knots out of your muscles every session. But if they are stress-related, you might want to work with a naturopath and/or counsellor to work on a stress management program. That way, the benefits of my treatments will last longer for you.
Combining therapies offers better education about your health
Therapists are experts within their field. I can explain your muscles to you until I’m blue in the face. But other practitioners can give you insights into other aspects of wellbeing. The more you learn about your body and your health, the easier it is for you to keep healthy and happy.
Combining therapies is preventative care
Prevention is always better than treating a problem. The best way to prevent ill health is to actively work on it with a team of health experts. Seeing more than one practitioner means that you’re covering more bases with prevention.
Practitioners I love working with
I’m happy to work with anyone who is on your healthcare team! You may have different practitioners, depending on what support you need. But I love seeing my clients working with:
If you have a quality healthcare team you work well with, you will get the best healthcare available – it’s that simple!
You can book your appointment online, or call me on 0401212934 so I can help you find a time that suits you best.
Mel is a Myotherapist based in Ferntree Gully.