Sigh. So, what the f*ck is dry needling and how is it different from acupuncture? To be honest, the biggest difference is the practitioner inserting the needles. I know a lot of acupuncturists get heated when it comes to this topic. I don’t truly care that much, it’s a topic that just tends to be rather annoying. Annoying because people talk about how it’s “superior” to acupuncture. But, when I ask why, they don’t know any real difference. I recently have had many people ask me about it, so I figured it was time to shed some light on the nonsense known as dry needling.
An Acupuncturist’s Education
Let me start by painting a picture; to obtain my acupuncture license, I went to school full-time, for three years. My degree is a Master’s Degree in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. Some acupuncturists study herbs and go for an additional year to two to receive a Master’s in Herbs as well. However, know once you have graduated you still can’t just go out and practice acupuncture. No no. You then have to pass multiple National Board Exams. Once you pass those tricky suckers, you then might need to pass an additional State exam and/or complete more observation hours (depending on where you want to practice). So yeah, I’m not just some weirdo hippie sticking needles in people. Well, yes I am a weirdo hippie, but the point I am making is that obtaining an acupuncture license is pretty damn difficult!
What is Dry Needling?
Dry Needling is a term other health practitioners have adopted, so that they may also insert acupuncture needles in people. Yes, everyone wants in on my super fun profession! However, dry needling is performed primarily by physical therapists and chiropractors. They claim they are needling tight and tender muscles with needles, and that it is a deeper more intense form of acupuncture. This is all NONSENSE.
Acupuncture Physical Medicine (APM)
I doubt dry needlers have ever heard of Acupuncture Physical Medicine (APM) so let me say what’s up! APM is a style of acupuncture that directly focuses on tight and tender muscles throughout the body. Acupuncturists are trained (for years) on how to properly needle into the affected muscle, release the tension and all without further irritation to the area. Acupuncturists then also use proper distal acupuncture points to move the Qi and Blood to promote healing. Dry needling is essentially a lazy and sloppy form of APM. Sorry, but not sorry. I don’t decide on Tuesday I am going to pretend to be a physical therapist and do a half a$$ job strengthening Charlie’s rotator cuff. Nor do I decide that on Friday I will be a chiropractor and make adjustments to Debbie’s hip flexors. I am an acupuncturist and I practice with pride and integrity.
The Dry Needling 411
Dry needling is also illegal in many states. The reason being is that it is pretty f*cking dangerous. Remember how I said I went to school for three full years to study acupuncture and Chinese Medicine? Well, believe it or not, there is a true method to the madness when it comes to this ancient healing modality. Dry needlers learn how to use acupuncture needles during a long weekend course. Yeah, that’s right, while you were partying at the beach during Labor Day weekend your PT learned how to use an acupuncture needle. Let that sink in. Meanwhile, for the first semester of acupuncture school, I didn’t even touch a needle, but apparently, a weekend course is good enough for dry needlers.
Next, know that the human body is covered with acupuncture points. All points have names, functions, purposes, needling angles, and DEPTHS. To me, the scariest part of dry needling is whenever they are needling around the upper back and chest. Yes, James Harrison, I have seen you looking like a damn porcupine. I have not a single clue what you have spent your money on. I doubt THAT nonsense did anything effective for your football career whatsoever. However, I did age whenever I glanced at all the needles over your lungs and heart area. Yes, every single acupuncture point has a specific angle and depth that can be needled when it comes to areas over organs. And yes, every acupuncturist knows the angles and depths! We are nationally tested on this sh*t! So, whenever you hear of a patient experiencing a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) due to an acupuncture needle; nine times out of ten it was performed by a dry needler.
I laugh every time I hear someone tell a patient of mine they should try dry needling, that it is “deeper and more effective”. I laugh because I know that they have no idea what they are talking about. Then I laugh again when I tell my patient that I have been doing proper APM (dry needling) all along. Yes, there is a true method to all of my madness! To be honest, a monkey could just jam needles into a muscle belly and call it a day. However, gently needling into an irritated muscle, calming the nervous system, all while moving the stagnate energy out of the body…now that sh*t is poetry! That’s acupuncture and that’s healing!