Dry needling and acupuncture are two therapeutic approaches that involve inserting very thin needles into the skin in certain areas of the body. Although the two approaches may seem similar to one another, they are in fact very different. Understanding the differences between the two can help you decide which type of treatment is best for your needs.
Dry needling is a safe, effective, therapeutic treatment method to manage neuromusculoskeletal pain (nerves, muscles, soft tissue, and bones) and impaired movement. It is referred to as dry needling because the needles do not inject any type of medication or solution into the body. It is performed by skilled physical therapists, certified in the procedure, to target and unknot muscles at specific trigger points to alleviate pain that may be caused elsewhere in the body. The procedure involves inserting hair-thin needles into the muscle to release the knot and relieve pain.
A trigger point is a local contracture or painful knot of muscle that can develop from a variety of factors such as overuse, lack of use, or trauma to the tissue. They are usually tender when pressed, and often cause pain in other areas of the body. For example, a trigger point in the upper back may cause pain to radiate to the head, neck, and shoulder. Individuals with trigger points often experience other symptoms, such as headaches, back pain, neck pain, and jaw pain.
Dry needling treats muscle tissue and the aim of treatment is to cause the knotted muscle to contract then relax. When the treatment is applied to a trigger point, it can reduce pain and tightness, increase blood flow, and reduce local and referred pain, helping to restore function. Dry needling is often used alongside other physical therapy treatments and is particularly effective in treating chronic pain. It is used to target muscle tissue that is not easily manipulated with other techniques, such as therapeutic massage. Dry needling can be an effective treatment for a wide variety of health conditions including:
- Herniated discs
- Knee pain
- Muscle strains
- Nerve disorders
- Plantar fasciitis
- Rotator cuff syndrome
- TMJ disorder
Dry needling is performed by inserting a fine needle into the muscle membrane (fascia) to create a twitch response that then depolarizes the tissue. The needles are slowly inserted into the tight muscle, gently manipulated, and removed after a short period of time. This process is repeated in other trigger points in different parts of the body if required. The procedure is not usually painful, but may cause temporary soreness.
Acupuncture is a treatment that also involves the insertion of fine needles at designated areas of the body, known as acupuncture points. It is derived from ancient Chinese medicine and is used for therapeutic or preventative purposes in an effort to alleviate pain or treat disease. It involves stimulating sensory nerves located under the skin and in the muscles, which results in the body producing beneficial natural substances, such as endorphins, which can effectively treat pain.
Traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy or life force known as Qi flows through distinct pathways throughout the body. If Qi is unable to flow freely throughout the body, it can cause illness or pain. Acupuncture is thought to restore the flow of Qi and health. It can be used to relieve discomfort associated with a range of health conditions including:
- Chronic (tension) headaches
- Dental pain
- Musculoskeletal pain such as joint pain, chronic pain, and postoperative pain
- Labor pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Respiratory disorders
Acupuncture is performed by inserting very fine needles into specific points in your body based on your condition. Several points may be used depending on your symptoms, and needles may be inserted just under the skin or deeper to reach the muscle. The procedure is not painful, but a tingling or dull ache may be experienced when the needles are inserted. Needles may be left in place for a few minutes or up to around half an hour depending on the type of treatment.
Dry Needling and Acupuncture in Austin, TX
If you suffer with chronic pain, talk to the professional physical therapists at Endeavor Physical Therapy to get the help you need. Our physical therapists use dry needling and acupuncture in conjunction with other physical therapy treatments in order to effectively relieve your chronic pain symptoms.