Is Acupuncture Actually Better Than Dry Needling?

20 Jan 2020

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To the casual observer, there’s really nothing to differentiate acupuncture from dry needling. Both techniques involve the insertion of needles into the skin at specific locations and they both aim to relieve pain. The thin, stainless steel needles used in acupuncture are also no different to the needles used in dry needling. So, what sets them apart and can they really be compared?

As it turns out, this is where the similarities end. While one discipline has a rich tradition that can be traced back over a thousand years, the other is a rather modern invention. One method is also backed by plenty of evidence, while the other is not. At the same time, both acupuncture and dry needling are classified as alternative medicine. So, is one really better the other? Here are some facts to help point you in the right direction.

What Is Dry Needling?

The process of dry needling involves the professional inserting several stainless steel needles into your skin, without any fluid in them. These needles are placed strategically in specific muscles or tissues (trigger points) to help release knots, relieve any muscle pain or spasms, and promote flexibility. Also known as intramuscular stimulation, sessions can last from 15 minutes to an hour as the needles will remain in your skin for 10 to 30 minutes depending on your issue.

As dry needling is a relatively modern invention, there is no specific guidance or regulatory protocol on how the practice is performed; this means that you won’t find any licensed practitioners. Typically, these practices are carried out by a sports therapist or physical therapist.

The idea behind the whole technique is that pain is the result of an underlying nerve or muscular problem, and isn’t just restricted to the area afflicted with pain. It is only effective if you are receiving no other treatments. [1]

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been practiced for over a thousand years. Traditionally, it was used to align a person’s energy or chi (Chinese word meaning life force energy or life). It is a holistic treatment that can be used for a variety of physical and mental problems. The primary belief is that the body can be healed when chi or the healing energy is released. To practice it, a person needs to undergo rigorous training for around three years and must pass an exam to get a practicing license.

An acupuncturist will insert long, thin needles in your skin to stimulate nerves in the muscles and balance the energy in your body. The belief behind the techniques is that your illness is the result of blocked or interrupted chi, and this process helps to remove blockages, as well as returns the flow of energy to a state of balance. It is advisable to seek daily sessions for effective results.

Dry Needling Vs Acupuncture

Dry needling helps release tension from knots and pressure points in the muscles. On the other hand, acupuncture releases endorphins and works with the nervous system. Between the two, acupuncture is a more holistic treatment as it can address both physical and mental problems. The focus of treatment in acupuncture is not narrow and restricted to a specific pain area as is the case in dry needling, but it treats the disease as a whole. For example, if you have a headache, acupuncture will help cure your pain and will also work to treat underlying causes.  Aside from the fact that there’s a lot more data to support its use, this is one more reason why experts recommend acupuncture.

Benefits of Acupuncture 

Insomnia

Acupuncture is commonly used to treat insomnia in China. Studies [2] have shown that acupuncture relaxes a person’s mind, making it easier for them to fall asleep and hence it is beneficial as compared to medication.

Chronic Pain (Knees, Neck, Head, and Back)

Acupuncture is a widely used treatment for chronic pain, as studies have proved [3]. It is one of the most effective and drug-free methods to relieve swelling and inflammation, and as a result, reduces pain.

Migraines

It is proven [4] that regular acupuncture sessions can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks in patients, by easing symptoms like headache, nausea, head-spinning, and it also relaxes them.

Quitting Smoking

This treatment can be an effective way to quit or cut down cigarette smoking, as it helps ease jitters, curb cravings, and reduces irritability. It also helps repair lung tissue while increasing relaxation and detoxification in the body [5].

Cancer Treatment

The popularity of acupuncture is increasing in cancer patients. When used as a complementary treatment alongside conventional care, it can help patients recover from chemotherapy side effects [6] like nausea, weakness, body pain, and more.

Mental Health Issues

Over five crore people in India [7] suffer from depression making India one of the leading countries with this illness. In acupuncture, they target a specific point in your body, which is responsible for calming and controlling anxiety, hence, it works well for those suffering from long term depression and anxiety along with other treatments.

References:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117383/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156618/

3. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1357513

4. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2603492

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11676576

6. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1534735416685403

7. https://www.livemint.com/Specials/Ysja8QtaVqjRpKg7eAFJfL/Over-5-crore-people-suffer-from-depression-in-India-WHO.html

8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3689180/

9. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome

10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466220/

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