There are many different styles of acupuncture. Depending on the practitioner, they may gravitate towards a more energetic approach to treatment or they may utilize a musculoskeletal based approach. Most acupuncturists integrate the two styles while a practitioner utilizing only dry needling would avoid a holistic energetic approach.
The term dry needling came about as a way for other practitioners to utilize the benefits of acupuncture (needling into musculature) without having to become an acupuncturist.
Now of course, a non-acupuncturist pain therapist providing dry needling to treat back pain isn’t going to look at your tongue, feel your pulse, or ask questions about your urinary bladder meridian because they are only using the needles with one intention - to affect local tissue and musculature.
The term “dry needling” is relatively new compared to the ancient history of Chinese medicine. It refers to the fact that the needles are not inserting any fluid into the body, they are “dry”. The needles used in your acupuncturist’s office are the same needles used for dry needling in your physical therapist’s office. If your acupuncturist is looking through their “anatomy lense” during treatment they are inserting these needles into trigger points and motor points, just like other professionals providing dry needling. In Chinese medicine we like to call these areas of needle insertion "ashi points".
For the purpose of pain relief and injury healing, dry needling is a technique adapted from an orthopedic style of acupuncture. The difference lies in the accompanying modalities and techniques.
Acupuncture is currently one of the most widely studied medical interventions, and much of the literature used to justify the clinical legitimacy of dry needling is drawn from acupuncture research studies. As of now, there are no objectively determined standards of education, curriculum and national examination in place for dry needling and there are no standards for clinical mentorship.
If you would like to read more about clarifying the myths and misinformation around dry needling and acupuncture, visit the American Society of Acupuncturists at www.ASAcu.org
Allison is a licensed Acupuncturist, Massage Therapist and Chinese Herbalist living and practicing in the beautiful city of Missoula, Montana.